Ironfest is a wonderfully participatory festival that takes place each year in Lithgow.
Created by local artist Macgregor Ross, the first Ironfest took place in April 2000 to celebrate the centenary of the birth of steel.
The festival originally had a mostly artistic focus that celebrated the relationship between people and iron and steel.
Two decades on, it’s a two-day event that attracts a costumed parade of visitors and participants from all across the state.
They’re here for the pageantry – each day ends in a grand parade – historical re-enactments, performances, and a marketplace that winds its way throughout the Lithgow Showground.
As a first-time attendee for the Once Upon A Time themed festival on 27-28 April, the first thing that struck me was the number of inter-generational dress-ups.
From a family taking on the characters from the movie Shrek to a tribe of fierce, horned wildlings, Ironfest really is a place where everyone can get in on the fun.
As we wandered under the colourful bunting checking out marketplace stalls, it was hard to keep your eyes on their wares as a veritable parade of costumed people passed by.
As a food blogger, I was obviously also keeping an eye open for thematic festival eats.
While I did imagine myself gnawing on a hunk of meat still clinging to the bone medieval-style, the best I could find was a Foot Long Kransky ($14) to ease my hand-to-mouth meat urge. I joined a breakaway part of the Roman legion at The German Grill Haus and got a very tasty cheese-infused kransky for my spend that protruded well beyond the soft hot dog bun.
It was loaded with nicely drained ‘kraut and given a crisp onion and pretzel topper for some crunch, with tomato sauce and mustard there for the asking.
When your feet get tired – there is a lot of walking at Ironfest – there’s always the grandstand. Framed by mountains and a line of golden poplars, it provides a great overview of the whole affair, and is thus a good place to sit and take in a battle or two.
We watched a commemoration for members of the Light Horse Brigade lost in the 1917 Battle of Beersheba.
It was followed by a slightly whacky twentieth century battle on the Western Front with the allied forces taking on the Germans.
I’m not big on war, so it felt a bit bizarre to watch a German Panzer IV & Kubelwagen driving by. Things got even weirder when a band of medieval foot soldiers stormed the field and murdered the allied forces, only to be blown up by an M1 Stuart.
While plenty of the enthusiasts are absolute sticklers for detail, I liked that Ironfest didn't let historical accuracy get in the way of a good battle.
By the end I was a bit shell-shocked from the force of the loud, percussive explosions, meaning I walked away with a better appreciation of what being in a warzone might actually be like.
The explosives also blew perfect smoke rings that floated intact across the battlefield.
Lithgow Councillor Cassandra Coleman, fabulously dressed as a steampunk Smurfette with blue skin and all, was kind enough to arrange my two festival highlights.
First, I was lucky enough to bottle feed two 4-week old baby alpacas at Rosa Carruthers’ petting zoo located in the Kids’ Kingdom. Dressed as Robin Hood, the always-smiling Rosa later led her ‘unicorn’ in the end-of-day parade with two lovely flame-haired wenches wrangling a pair goats and an adult alpaca right by her side.
My second highlight was riding on the back of a steam traction engine in the parade.
In the capable hands of a lady driver whose family own three different engines all on display at the festival, I rode around in a grand machine once used to pull heavy loads.
Perched on the wood pile used to fuel the hungry fire in the boiler I had a particularly good view.
Looking past a kilt-clad band of Scottish musicians, I saw the Space Cowboy performing up a sideshow storm on a grassy area called The Common.
It was surreal to watch bands of armed militia being overtaken by a Catbus.
Plucked from the film My Neighbour Totoro, the grinning, twelve-legged catbus had windows occupied by waving passengers, and a striped tail.
With all the costumed participants gathering on the battlefield for a photo, the stage was set for a hearse to arrive bearing a tombstone with next year’s theme engraved on it: Gothic.
Word is, next year there will also be a satellite Ironfest taking place on the Casula Powerhouse’s riverside parklands on the October Long Weekend to cater for all of us Sydneysiders who love getting their costumes on too!
Ironfest Gothic will take place at the Lithgow Showground over the weekend of Saturday 18 April and Sunday 19 April, 2020. Entry for an adult for a single day is $50; a child is $35 and a family is $125. Purchase on the day, or online HERE.