Beaker Street Festival 2024: Tent saunas, science you can drink and rediscovering your child-like curiosity

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Beaker Street Festival's 2024 event will run in August.
Beaker Street Festival's 2024 event will run in August. Credit: Supplied

If you grew up on the east coast of Australia, you’ll remember the primary school overnight class excursion to Canberra.

For many kids, it was the first time away from their parents, sharing a room with their mates, and thinking you were now properly grown-up. But the most indelible memory was formed at Questacon.

The science centre is an institution of Australian childhoods, a playground for kids, interacting with bits and bobs and earthquake simulation platforms until the teachers ushered you back on the bus, playing with the slinky or Newton’s cradle bought with pocket money in the gift shop.

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Being able to touch and play with science, learn how things work and tapping into a spirit of discovery was, above all, fun. Seriously, how rad was Questacon?

That’s the kind of experience Beaker Street Festival wants to recreate, but for adults who may have lost that wonderment and curiosity.

Beaker Street Festival's 2024 event will run in August.
Beaker Street, where adults can rediscover their child-like curiosity. Credit: Fred and Hannah/Brand Tasmania

“You know why we lose it? Because no one gives it to us,” Beaker Street founder and festival director Margo Adler told The Nightly. “I think about this all the time. If you take a thing, an activity that’s designed for kids, and you tell the adults it’s for them, and you give them alcohol, and they love it.

“It’s like you give them permission to be kids again. Why is it that you lose your zest for life when you get older? You’re not interested in exploring the world anymore. That’s just not true. That’s a story we’ve been fed.”

Beaker Street is an annual science, food and arts festival in Hobart, which is apt because Tasmania has the highest number of scientists per capita in Australia. It’s also the gateway to Antarctica.

This year’s festival will take place in Hobart in August and will feature more than 70 events.

There’s a bar where scientists with flashing badges invite you to chat with them about anything from glowing crystals to dark matter to how you can “poison” AI.

Beaker Street Festival's 2024 event will run in August.
Bars are better with science experiments. Credit: Remi Chauvin/Beaker Street

“I think there should be microscopes in every bar,” Adler explained. “How much more fun would bars be if you could bring your own little specimens to look at if you found an ant outside and you brought it in? Have you ever looked at an ant under a microscope? They look amazing.

“Just all of the things in the world that you can examine, we just don’t look at anymore. As kids, we were offered that.”

You could learn about Indigenous astronomy from an Aboriginal elder or shine UV lights at native animals that secretly glow. You could go platypus spotting or indulge in a two-night getaways at the Piermont Retreat with stargazing on the beach.

There’s a future foods program that emphasises sustainable cuisine, which, significantly for any festival, you can eat. And drink. Don’t forget, distillers are just chemists, and there will be plenty of them on hand.

Last year, there was a croissant-making workshop. That certainly beats sitting in a lecture theatre. Science you can eat and drink.

Beaker Street Festival's 2024 event will run in August.
You go straight from a steaming hot tent sauna into that whisky barrel which will be filled with very cold water. Credit: Dearna Bond/Tourism Tasmania

One of the highlights will be for anyone who’s dreamt of trekking to the furthest reaches of Lapland, or down to Antarctica, and plunging into a small hole carved in the ice.

A bucket-list adventure to be certain but until you have the time and money, consider the next best thing, a Finnish tent sauna and cold-water plunge on the docks of Hobart harbour.

While Tasmania is known for its frosty climes, it’s not as glacial as the poles. So instead of a frozen-over body of water, participants will jump straight from a blistering sauna tent into a whisky barrel, filled not with amber alcohol but with water of varying levels of coldness.

Sweating it out in your togs and then being dunked in cold water is probably not what you think of when you think of a science festival. It’s not exactly serious and somber talks but the experience is backed by science.

“It’s not just we want you to think of science festivals differently, we want you to think of science differently,” Adler said. “Science is the inner workings of almost everything.

“Come for the food, come for the live music, come for the art, come for the drinks and then we’ll get you with the science hook.”

It’s science you can play with.

Beaker Street Festival is on from August 6 to the 13th

The writer travelled to Hobart as a guest of Beaker Street

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