Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)


Faculty of Education and Arts

First Advisor

Dr Julie Robson

Second Advisor

Dr Jonathan Marshall (2006-2008)

Third Advisor

Dr Lekkie Hopkins (2009-2011)


This doctoral investigation is a study of the Festival of Perth from its foundation in 1953 until its name changed to the Perth International Arts Festival (PIAF) in 1999. It charts chronologically the key directors and their contributions to the Festival’s program and management, creating the first single-volume and illustrated account of the Festival of Perth. From a small but visionary concept, the Festival of Perth provided an avenue through which international acts and performances could be brought to Perth audiences. At the same time, the Festival brokered the development and presentation of local work and encouraged the provision of an arts infrastructure in Western Australia. This year-by-year account has been composed from various sources, triangulating and comparing data from archival documents, pre-existing interview transcripts, newly created oral histories, and selected photos and promotional images. A theoretical framework of events management, outlined by Donald Getz, provides a lens through which to see the achievements of the Festival of Perth within the global rise of festival culture. This account and analysis situates the Festival of Perth within accepted definitions of festivals. What started out as a ‘homegrown’ series of events for a small but specific audience of summer school students evolved to become a major international festival, pioneering the ‘big bang’ model for festivals in Australia’s capital cities. To build the context and conclusion, this thesis is structured to reflect the major periods of the Festival’s development and programming under the directorships of Fred Alexander, John Birman and David Blenkinsop, and, in the latter years, the senior administrator Henry Boston. The artistic vision and mission of these four, key personnel was instrumental in the establishment of the Festival in the 1950s, its growth during the 1960s and 1970s, and the development of a successful, modern formula for festivals in the 1980s and 1990s. My reading of the research data emphasises the idiosyncratic and almost haphazard nature of the development of the Festival of Perth. The Festival of Perth was greatly coloured by the differing personalities and programming preferences of each of its four central figures, and the need to respond to differing stakeholder demands. The combination of the key players’ desires to bring the best international acts to Perth, to manufacture and increase arts audiences in Western Australia through targeted cultural events, and their perceived need to improve and educate both the audience and local arts sector, led to a hybrid style of programming which worked in Western Australia for forty-six years. As the first, post-World War II, multi-arts festival in the southern hemisphere, the Festival of Perth can be seen to have initiated the transformation of Perth from cultural desert to internationally desirable performance location. The Festival of Perth quickly became an important institution for the city, state and national community, and continues to be a significant annual event under its new name of the Perth International Arts Festival.

Available for download on Sunday, November 13, 2022