What can only be described as an extraordinary eclectic dress up party like none I’ve ever witnessed before. It rivals the concept of wacky. It’s bizarre, yet strangely normal in the setting. It’s enthralling, mesmerising, exciting, eccentric and everything in between.
How to describe this event to one who has never heard of or witnessed before is somewhat of a conundrum. I can only stress ‘you had to be there’ is the one true piece of advice I can bestow upon any curious soul who might want to make a trip up to Lithgow in 2017 if you’re in the near vicinity.
There are several words that spring to the tip of my tongue, when writing and reminiscing about my first time attending the Lithgow Ironfest. The talk leading up to this event over 12 months ago, naturally leaves one with certain expectations in mind coupled with your own conjuring’s of what you imagine such an event might entail, when all you have are photos to go on from past festivals to complete your picture. It definitely leaves one with anticipations of the highest kind.
This year another road trip up to the Blue Mountains in New South Wales, around 2 hours away, with my trusty friends, Myrza Muller and Yolande Wright (pictured below) saw us making a weekend out of it. Thankfully for us, on the same weekend half an hour away from Lithgow in a beautiful tucked away suburb called Mount Wilson, the Autumn Festival was supposedly in full bloom and worthy of a visit (more of this in a separate post).
And so our plans for the weekend; Saturday to visit Mount Wilson and surrounds and Sunday, the Lithgow Ironfest, where our Photography Society would also be meeting to witness this surreal event. Some would have ventured there on Saturday, others, like us on Sunday.
Ironfest has been talked about with many a description in an attempt to convey all that this event entails and all I can surmise is it’s an artistic medieval festival exploring the interactions between humans, past and present, the birth and history of metal, design makers, historical re-enactors, performers of all kinds of all possible realms, steampunk’ers, blacksmiths, cosplay, musicians, falconry displays.
Here, we were witness to several staged battles from different periods of history. Numerous armoured vehicles firing off hundreds of rounds of ammunition and setting off explosive devices and tanks firing canons. A bevy of excitement and deafening noise and we had front row seats to the action. A mere 5 meters away. One got a small inkling of what the atmosphere on an actual battlefield might have been. The ground rumbles and reverberates through your body in a tremor of excitement, fear and bewilderment. There’s chaos and a rollercoaster of sounds from bombs going off, gunfire spurting, an exploding car, screams as soldiers attack, also dressed in period-themed armour, charging their enemy using swords, axes, and a plethora of other weapons. It’s a sensory overload.
Following the war, it was a surprising and refreshing sight to see soldiers, cosplay characters and volunteers, literally walk the showgrounds/battlefield picking up all the shells that had been fired. Great practice.
One of the targets for destruction in our mock war, a car literally exploding in a symphony of flames followed by a solid screen of smoke – it’s almost indescribable, and I can attest that it’s nothing like you see on tv, which pale in comparison.
And of course, safety first in Australia. Can’t have a car left burning in the middle of a field with people around. Firefighters sadly did not fit with the theme of the festival and last I checked, the 18C were not prone to using state of the art fire hoses. They should have had everyone rally with buckets of water. Now that would have been authentic.
Theatrics and costumes aside, visitors to the festival could also enjoy browsing a multitude of stores for medieval merchandise and enjoy watching blackmiths at work creating beautiful art and everyday objects.
Below, Melbournian born Aerial Manx (a.k.aJason Loughron), in 2008, aged 22, performed the worlds first sword swallowing act while doing a handstand. And we had the opportunity to view his act at Ironfest. Crazy.
Whilst many volunteers take their roles very seriously and spend months sourcing authentic outfits and get into character, some are also there to have a jolly ol time. One such vega bond (pictured below) an actor belonging to the Katoomba Amusements Company formed a group for the day called ‘The Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Holy Snail’ that came complete with an amusing ‘holy chant’ – “We are the Brotherhood and Sisterhood of the Holy Snail, the most sacred of the escargots …
Over the years, inception of the Lithgow Ironfest began as a mere art exhibition in a number of shops along the East End Main Street attracting around 400 people. The following year expanded to Museums, the Blast Furnace and Talisman Gallery, attracting around 700 people.
In 2002/2003, growing bigger, it moved to the State Mine Museum, where for the first time, metamorphosed into a real festival to include artists, performers and re-enactors, attracting 3,000 visitors. 2004 saw it change venues again to where it now currently resides annually at the Lithgow Showgrounds, now attracting over 15,000 visitors.
It truly was a sensory overload and eye candy to boot. Activities ranged from Live War Re-enactments of different periods, Live Wrestling Matches, Circus Performances, Jousting Matches, Archery competitions, a real live Gothic Wedding, a Contortionist and sword swallowing act to name a few, but the true magic of the event I have to say goes to the participants whom we discovered spend months in advance planning their costumes, sourcing various aspects from ebay, to home-made contraptions or self-haberdashery creations, local costume stores, overseas purchases. The creativity that went into some of the costumes, something to truly marvel at.
Below, we were witness to a legal marriage. Yes legal and somewhat bizarre considering most brides imagine themselves walking down an isle lined with exotic flowers, the bride adorned in flowing white and the groom, dressed in a well tailored, sleek sexy suit. This one, a wedding with a difference. A bit of goth, a bit of medieval and a whole lot of non tradition. Here the bride walks down a large and still beautifully green grass patch dressed in black and not to a waiting groom. No siree, the groom in this scenario had to fight a battle of swords to prove his worth to his bride. A mock sword fight of course.
Below, the celebrant/Knight who performed the ceremony.
Image below, some of the characters that paraded over the days ranging from The Joker, vegabonds, rouges, Knights of the round table, Jedi, Freddy Kruger, 1800 century wenches. It’s a bevy of colour and characters.
And so in closing, I highly recommend anyone who is in the area in 2017, to make a stop at the Lithgow Showgrounds for the Ironfest 2017 as it’s an event that one can’t truly describe in words that could even remotely do it justice. Although having said that, I was somewhat disappointed at my trip on Sunday. Granted it was the last day of the event and the weather to most would have been depressing and overcast and drizzling, which could possibly attest to the somewhat meagre turnout of characters. It seems those who attended the day prior, had a far broader range of characters visitors and atmosphere. And so for 2017, a two-day trip for me will be in order.
Thank you to all the organisers and volunteers who spend months planning and executing such an outstanding event.
Click HERE for my full gallery of Ironfest 2016.