If you haven’t made the trip out to the other side of the Blue mountains yet then you really should think about adding this incredible event to your bucket list, there is literally something for everyone!
Seriously, I don’t even know where to start. I have had a few friends ask me what its all about and I always struggle to find a way to sum it up in a neat little package with a bow on top. To be honest its not neat at all, its incredibly messy and in fact sometimes complete chaos but all the better for it. The right answer to ‘So hey man, whats it all about?’ is ‘dude, whats it NOT about?’.
For the longer answer, here is a quick rundown of just a FEW of the things you can see or do at Ironfest in Lithgow (held in April from the 21st to 23rd).
Ninjitsu training, Knights, Crusaders, Vikings, Archery, Steampunk, Stormtroopers, line dancing, fashion shows, cosplay competitions, wrestling, shawarma’s, hot cinnamon donuts, Robots, blacksmithing, WWII Battle re-enactments, Convicts, Redcoats,….deep breath…. Jousting, sculptures, weddings, classic car shows, Birds of prey shows, medieval boardgames, belly dancers, camping, fancy dinners at the local sportsclub in full costume, circus acrobats, Batman, Tanks, Darth Vader, a petting zoo, folk singing and yes the list goes on.
(Please comment below article if I have missed anything and it will get added to the wall of text!)
There are also hundreds of awesome stalls selling everything from swords to original artwork to replica weapons to complete suits of armour and most entertaining of all, a death defying battle charge by a motley crew of medieval swordsmen and vikings. Who are they attacking with such anger and fury?
Why naturally its a Sherman tank and assorted other WWII era mechanised units who quickly open up with everything they have.
Of course the desperate charge is quickly halted by the shells and bullets rained down upon them by the now grinning armoured units, every last bloodied knight and bearded viking dropping to the ground, usually accompanied by a dramatic cry that would make even the hammiest B movie actors cringe with embarrassment.
The crowd looks on awed by their lethal combination of bravery and stupidity, a palled silence falls across the showground. Then within mere minutes of the last gun falling silent all the weary warriors slowly rise up again and assemble for a group photo.
It will still go down as one of the highlights of a weekend jam packed with such spontaneous feats of madness.
For a little background on the event I went to one of the key men behind it all, Scott Machon who was happy enough to give us a quick rundown on where it all started and where its going..
Beginning as a glorified art exhibition & held in a number of shops in the East End Main St Lithgow, the first Ironfest celebrated the birth of steel in Australia in Lithgow & involved around 30 artists & performers & attracted around 400 people.
The following year it was expanded to include a number of venues outside of Main St including the Small Arms Factory Museum, the State Mine Museum, Talisman Gallery, & the Blast Furnace Park; involving around 70 participants & attracting 700 visitors In 2002/03 it moved to the State Mine Museum & in this fabulous setting became a real festival involving around 300 people (artists, performers & re-enactors) & attracting in excess of 3,000 visitors.
In 2004 it was forced (because of parking & traffic concerns) to move to its current home the Lithgow Showground where it has grown exponentially; in 2015 involving over 1,200 participants & attracting close to 15,000 visitors. Since inception Ironfest has attracted over 140,000 visitors to the region & contributed over $20 million directly into the local economy.
It has had an immeasurable effect on Lithgow’s post-industrial image transforming it from a dirty old coal mining town into a place where quality events take place; many of Ironfest’s participants and acts are now involved in numerous Council run events & locals are proud to promote their town as somewhere worth visiting.
According to Scott roughly 20.000 visitors were estimated to have graced the stands at this years event with estimates from some sources pegging it closer to 25, 000. Being there the whole weekend myself both estimates seem very low! 2016 was the 17th year of Ironfest and its only going to grow and grow. Given the size of the showgrounds there is still plenty of room for more stalls and exhibitions though with it getting more crowded every year some careful management of the timing of some of the shows.
I heard some of the ‘birds of prey’ people complaining about the explosions and loud reports of the re-enactors weapons spooking their many birds, there was some overlap between the type of entrants recieved at both the cosplay comp and the fashion show which made it hard for people who wanted to watch both. I’m sure with a little more micro-managing by the right people any such issues will be overcome as the event charges on into the 21st century.
As a cosplay focused website one thing we can’t go past is the amount of colourful entrants we had this year at all three of the cosplay competitions, one of them being billed as more of a ‘fashion parade’ though with the number of steampunk entrants seen entering I would still say it falls easily within the remit of what our fans are hoping to see and hear more about. It was hosted by the Mayor herself in front of the grandstands and attracted large crowds and a lot of fantastic outfits. The cosplay comp proper though was held in the main hall on both days around lunchtime.
The room was packed on both occasions and it took nearly an hour to get everyone who entered up on stage and posing for the crowed. Every minute was enjoyed though as the level of cosplay was as high as usual for this growing event. The prizes were worth putting in the hard yards for with generously large vouchers handed out by some of the more popular stalls such as Gallery Serpentine.
One of the other great things about Ironfest is that not only are there virtually no restrictions on props size, materials used or costumes worn but they actively encourage the use of metal swords and stupidly long sniper rifles by cosplayers.
Being largely an outdoors event they don’t have to deal with the same space and traffic control problems as Supanova, Smash or OZCC which is obviously a huge advantage for them but we still love that one organisation is willing to buck the trend and not bow to the rising culture of risk averse, insurance minded ass covering seen at a lot of similar events.
I for one can’t wait to see what crazy highlights are still to come, last year I stayed in a nearby motel for the Saturday night. This year I was rugged up underneath the stars with all the guys and gals brave enough to sleep off the evenings shenanigans in the showground itself.
Many a tankard of mead had been passed around the campfire and story told. New friends were made and old friendships renewed over the far too short weekend. I have a feeling next year I may come up the Friday just to stretch the fun that much further, will you be there to burn through your credit card on olde timey goods or take an arrow to the knee?
I’m sure we can find another place at the fire for you. .