Winter Festival Huon Valley Style
The time ticks over to 5pm and “Sam” answers the gate keepers walkie check-in “not ready, but let them it”.
The 2019 Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest has begun!
The incessant rain is drifting in more than out as I walk through the entrance in to the Ranelagh Showgrounds through red streamers and under the “Wassail” sign, the home of this year’s Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest.
I hope I have come sufficiently prepared. I have ditched my standard black down jacket uniform with an actual raincoat and got my Blundstone boots on. Gumboots would’ve been a wiser decision.
Inside the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival
This year there is a push to reduce waste at the festival so there are refundable enamel cups available for $5.00. I obtain my blue “Willie Smith” emblazoned cup and go in search of what folk wonders lay before me.
The rain affected grounds are already squelching under busy feet. The expansion of the festival to the Ranelagh Showgrounds from the Willie Smith Apple Shed was needed and I can see the extra space has been put to use.
More tents, stalls and galaxy of space.
The pending bonfire is the centerpiece of the festival where massive logs are packed together in a teepee-like structure ready for tomorrow’s ignition. Those logs are soaked in rain.
The highlights for night one are the Welcome Ceremony and the lighting of Big Willie to wake up winter.
Big Willie is a giant iron edifice peering over the festival grounds from the top paddock with enough flammable material to burn in even the wettest night.
There’s also a smorgasbord of local food, beer, cider and whisky produce to consume merrily, plus some storytelling and folky musical entertainment. Given the weather, whatever it takes to keep warm.
There are more artisans offering face painting, wood working, various craft stalls featuring leather, stone, wood works, tarot reading, plus a shaman. The expansion has made it a more diverse festival. There is also a bunch of sculptures which are difficult to make out in the dark.
The pagan costume dressed goers stand out and for the most part are well done.
For the active and young at heart, there are lots of puddles to stomp and splash in.
Take a Look Around
The “main” footpath leads towards the “Feasting Tent”. I follow the imaginary breadcrumbs.
Villino Coffee seems a practical way to warm up while checking out the food options under the cover of the Feasting Tent.
A quick walk under the cover of the tent makes me satisfied that every hearty winter food group is represented.
Pits of fire are scattered around the festival grounds as meeting points and human warming facilities. The fire vs rain battle will rage tonight.
Mud sloshes under foot, while rain clouds loom above. Those rain clouds bring a torrent of falling water.
I cut a lonely figure as I wander the grounds in the drizzle, having a gander at each tent (Storyteller, Apple Shed and Main). Big Willie is perched beyond the top part of the paddock. I trudge my way to stand before Big Willie before he becomes the giant burning man.
Took it up myself to test some Hobart Brewing Co beers, Rye Porter and then Tascadian Dark Ale. Both beers are very drinkable with the Tascadian weighing in with a decent punch of 6.1%. The Rye Porter is a perfect winter evening fit.
Pagan costume well represented from goers. Others may have not been so pagan with their tatters, but kudos all the same.
I’d like to give the tatters costume a go one year, but I am not creative in that way.
One thing with photographing other people is that I’m not yet confident or comfortable with asking perfect strangers for a photo. No matter how cool they look in their costume.
I caught some sharp witted by-play and folk punky musical action from The Stragglers before the main event…
Welcome Ceremony and Big Willie Burning
The festival gathers for the Welcome Ceremony and the burning of Big Willie.
Up he goes!!! The wick (an appendage from between Big Willie’s legs no less) was lit and phwoom! Light up Willie did! He is quickly a raging fire from hat to toe, lighting up the festival from his top paddock vantage point.
The crowd stays watching in awe as Willie burns strong in the night. I briefly bump in to a couple of friends, but they exit stage left to their own world.
The Handsome Young Strangers are playing host to the biggest Main Tent crowd of the night and everyone is getting down.
After my foot tapping and head bobbing efforts, my evening ends with a trip to Jesse James for bolognese jaffles. After scoffing these delicious bread products down it was time for me to make my exit and escape the cold and the rain of night one of the Huon Valley Mid-Winter Fest.
The Return of the Rain
I’ve been abandoned. The weather is too much for some. I’m going to do this trip solo. Again. I have friends. I’m sure of it. Maybe. Perhaps.
It’s about 2.45pm as I exit the shuttle bus from Hobart. The skies are still murky grey, but the squalling rain has eased.
The Ranelagh Showgrounds grounds are a mess. The grass has taken a stomping. Hay has been laid to soak up the moisture and to provide a cleaner under foot experience.
The festival looks empty in the light of day, however the seating under the feasting tent is well patronised already.
I repeat my first stop from Friday and go directly to Villino for a warming coffee.
Even though it is being held on the main “footpath” I come across Morris dancing quite by accident. It’s a strange past time. The dancers jingle their bells (attached to shin pads) and clap their sticks or flay their streamers and dance around in various choreographed formations while an accordion plays the backing tune. I am almost entranced and watch two performances all the way through. Judging by the young ages of the majority of participants it’s not a dying interest.
Stopping by some real life Vikings making Viking goat stew, I ask if it is ready. They collectively offer me some. Laden with vegetables and freshly sacrificed goat, it is quite tasty and a good sample size.
I need a tasty beverage to wash the goat stew down. Rye Porter is my go to. I should be drinking cider – I am at an apple festival – but left to my own life choices, I keep with what I know best.
Bonfire Lighting Time
The air is cold and the night is darkening but the enormous bonfire at the centre of the festival is ready to light up like it is Christmas in July.
Aided by copious amount of flammable fluid the water soaked trunks go up in smoke and in just a matter a moments huge flames. The heat from the bonfire is immediately noticeable.
The second best defence against this cold weather is warm food. I get some soul warming pork ragu from the one of the food trucks.
Storytelling & Star Wars
In the Storytelling tent I listen to the Storytelling Masterclass with English master storyteller Martin Maudsely.
Martin tells a Brothers’ Grimm folktale of a witch in the deep forest…
“…into the deep forest where the trees are bent and black and dripping with malice…”
I learn to be careful not to walk too far down the wrong path and be careful when cutting down trees, for you may be captured by a black hearted witch or give one life. He holds the audience to fascinated silence in his 15 minute story.
Hello Tut Tut are playing the Star Wars Cantina Band medley in the distance at the main tent. Like a stormtrooper to laser fire, I am drawn to those exquisite sounds.
The conclusion of the song leads me to another coffee, but this time with choc liqueur for an added kick. Ooh yeah, a nice rich coffee. The warming liquid should see me through the wassail, which is up now.
We are Wassailing, We are Wassailing…
The Wassail procession snakes its way up the grounds through the throng. It’s easy to see the flaming torches.
A fellow who is called The Green Man greets us and introduces the Wassail Orchestra which consists of about 6 kids with pots and pans that were handed to them about 5 minutes ago. The kids had just stopped banging them before the Green Man started to speak.
We wassail, and we wassail some more with great gusto!
After that performance, the Huon Valley will see a good apple harvest in 2019! The crowd disbands and I plod through the mud to the Apple Shed to catch the second set by The Stragglers via a pit stop for a Mac n Cheese burger. A Mac n Cheese burger is an award winner for “those things that sounds much better than they are”.
After some beat bopping tunes by The Stragglers (check them out thestragglers.bandcamp.com), I end my Huon Valley Mid-Winter Festival experience and escape the same way I entered and await the bus back to Hobart Town in the dark Huon Valley night.