Foreword by Catherine Norrie
Since its beginnings in 2000 as a small art exhibition in Lithgow to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the birth of steel in Australia, Ironfest has grown into a multi-day, multi-themed, multi-faceted, eclectic festival bringing together artists, designers, makers, musicians, actors, historians, cosplayers – you name it, where pretty much anything goes.
Going in, not knowing what to expect other than the theme being an ‘old western’ type festival. I was rather bewildered seeing so many people dressed up in, well, pretty much anything. It was clear by looking around that there was no defined theme, but it did not seem to matter. From steampunk, burlesque, medieval knights and ladies, civil war soldiers, giant kangaroos, belly dancers, skeletons on stilts, ogres, vikings, even anime there was never a dull place to look.
Everybody: cosplayers and lay folk alike were enthusiastic about the entire day which gave it a high energy feel. Every cosplayer seemed to enjoy their opportunity to venture out in costume and were incredibly friendly and accommodating when asked for a photo. Special mention to a group of army soldiers who spent some time with my son, explaining their costume in detail when he said was afraid of them.
The program was packed full of a variety of demonstrations, displays, performances and interactive experiences to keep almost anyone in the family happy. Had I looked at it prior to getting there I, perhaps, would have had a better understanding of what to expect.
On the main ‘Tourney Ground’ we watched some of the displays including horse and army tanks jousting, free Flight Bird of Prey show, civil war re-enactments with live cannons (these did scare the kids a fair bit as we were in close proximity when they were fired and you can feel that boom in your chest).
‘The Village’ was an area behind the Tourney Grounds where festival participants had set up tents and marquees like little settlements in groups of eras. In the Medieval section we were able to see how medieval camp kitchens were set up, have a go at making chain mail, play medieval board games and even have a go at firing a bow and arrow.
Moving through the 19th century section, there were displays of various armies and weapons, industrial steam powered machinery – both large and miniature, steampunk stalls and even some Penny-Farthings. Perhaps the Native American chief riding a Penny-Farthing was not too authentic, but still a sight to see!
The 20th century was mostly a display of various decades of war camps and machinery from the contemporary wars such as WW2 and Vietnam. Sandbags, barbed wire fences, Red Cross nurses, motor bikes, tanks and jeeps – all in the familiar army green and classic camo prints.
Truly demonstrating the variety that is Ironfest, you can watch a Blacksmith display showcasing ancient skills and techniques being used to manipulate metal in sculptures, jewellery, knives and even furniture. At the Sci-Fi exhibit you can meet a life size functioning R2-D2 (Star Wars), a Dalek (Doctor Who), stand with a Stargate or sit on Captain Kirk’s chair in the Enterprise.
There were a variety of stalls where you could purchase the beginnings of your own steam punk outfit or swords for your suit of armour, jewellery and clothes from local designers. Have your fortune told by palm readers or
purchase some chai, soaps or cakes and even pet rocks which I could not keep my daughter away from.
There were a small number of food trucks to purchase some lunch, snacks and/or coffee, and the lines were not too long, but not a great deal of variety. We were fortunate enough to have the Roving Musical Posse play a few
tunes whilst we sat and ate. Also, we were able to watch the Space Cowboy juggle a chainsaw on a 9-foot unicycle from our seats. Perhaps my only gripe as a parent would be that there was very little shade over the entire festival and none at the food truck area.
My little ones (Mr 3 and Miss 1) loved the face painting, petting zoo and horse rides as well as the free flight Bird of Prey display. Mr 3 could not stop laughing when the Owl chased a remote-controlled car disguised as a rabbit and also when the Eagle ran down, wings spread, a plastic fox on wheels. This display was also a winner for me, even more so when I got to hold a Wedge-tailed Eagle.
As this festival grows in size over the coming years, it would be nice to see some more child focused activities to attract the family crowd, especially given the price of the day entry ticket. It is cheaper to get into the Sydney Royal Easter Show. However, if you are able to make it to both days, the 2-day pass is good value.
The evening ended with a parade and then a fire spinning display. Overall, I must say that I was pleasantly surprised that my family enjoyed our time as much as we did. There were a variety of activities to keep us each entertained, a great family atmosphere and it was a great eye opener in the diversity of all that is Ironfest.