ARE you into knights and armour? Jousting and archery? Falconers and unicorns?
Get ye down to the Hawkesbury Showgrounds on the weekend of Saturday, 1 and Sunday, 2 July for the Hawkesbury’s first ever Winterfest Sydney Medieval Fair.
“We’re looking at this as a permanent move to the Hawkesbury,” said Andrew Beattie - a professional stuntman, jousting champion, and Hawkesbury lad, who has been involved with Winterfest since it began in 2007.
“The businesses and schools we’ve talked to, everybody has been so supportive, and it makes it a pleasure to be a Hawkesburian!” he told the Gazette.
Fun and educational
Winterfest is one of the longest-running annual medieval fairs in the Sydney metro region and, according to Mr Beattie, the two-day extravaganza has something for the entire family.
Packed with role-players and demonstrations, the event is designed as a fun, immersive and (most importantly) educational look at life in ye olde times, full with jousting tournaments, mounted skill-at-arms battles, real birds of prey, and knights in armour.
“We’re really homing-in on history, and supporting Stage 4 history in schools, as well as years 4, 5 and 6,” said Mr Beattie. But Winterfest isn’t just for the kids - anyone with an interest in medieval life will have a hoot at the fair, Mr Beattie reckons.
“There’s falconers, bowyers [archery] - you can try it, give it a go, and learn the history,” he said
Winterfest has been hosted in a number of locations since its inception, including Castle Hill, Ryde and Parramatta. This will be its first time in the Hawkesbury, and if 2016’s numbers are anything to go by, there could be up to 10,000 people visiting the event over the weekend.
The fair is a sister-event of Ironfest - an arts festival with a ‘metal’ demonstration focus that takes place annually in Lithgow. According to Mr Beattie, Winterfest originally began as an event organised by re-enactors, for re-enactors, and has grown massively since the 1000-odd punters it attracted in its first year.
“[At the beginning] it included having the public involved and it turned out to be a full history extravaganza, showcasing the educational intent of all the clubs and groups [that are involved in the fair],” he explained.
These include: Full Flight Birds of Prey Centre, which is a group focussed on research, conservation and rehabilitation of native raptors; as well as Historical Equestrian Games Australia (HEGA), which runs clinics on archery and mounted medieval skill-at-arms - with Mr Beattie the head skill-at-arms instructor.
“We didn’t want to be a major commercial situation. We expanded more into bringing history to people as an immersion event. Then, because we weren’t running for profit, we could really expand out into giving back to the community,” Mr Beattie said.
“It grew into a two-day demonstration display show. From there, we then wanted to expand into looking after the community further, so [now] we run it to promote charities - the education side of things.”
In 2016, Winterfest exceeded its target of raising $300,000 for groups and charities through the fair, and in February this year, Mr Beattie was nominated for an Australian of the Year Award for his charitable efforts.
Mr Beattie - 45 years old - has close ties with the Hawkesbury, which is part of the reason the Winterfest crew decided on our Showground as the location for this year’s event. And if all goes well, Hawkesbury will be the host district for Winterfest for years to come.
Mr Beattie’s family came out to the area with Macquarie in 1812. “We’re Scottish, part of The Black Watch,” he said. “My grandfather grew up in the missions, so I’ve had a very broad education.”
Mr Beattie’s grandfather was known as the ‘Minister on the Water’, a travelling minister on the Hawkesbury River whose route saw him marry couples and deliver mail from Brooklyn right up to the Hawkesbury.
“He did the postal routes, did the weddings, and ran the mission out past Cattai,” said Mr Beattie.
Becoming a stuntman wasn’t always part of Mr Beattie’s plan. He started out studying science at university, specialising in paleontology, biology and geology.
“But I ended up as a professional stuntman!” he laughed. “And I’ve been in the stunt game for almost 20 years.”
He began jousting professionally after studying ‘bujinkan kobudo’, an old Japanese style of martial arts that involved horses.
“I was the top ranking in Australia and there was noone to train me. So I found Justin Holland in Maitland [a jousting expert], and within six months I was competitively training and jousting,” said Mr Beattie.
While jousting, he dons a harness made of steel, which weighs 35-40kg, which he had made by a specialist armorsmith. He has represented Australia in jousting, and his team was named ‘world’s best’ at an international jousting competition hosted in New Zealand in 2010.
“I took out nearly every individual component and did it with a cracked femur!” he said.
How did this happen? “I got kicked by a horse - two horses were having a fight, and I dove in to save the public,” he recalled.
As a stuntman, he has worked on White Collar Blue, Wild Boy, Star Wars and All Saints, to name a few: “I’m a specialist in fighting and fight choreography, as well as equestrian.”
As for Winterfest, Mr Beattie said punters can expect an educational, immersive, fun day of activities, while “spending less than you would taking your family to the movies”.
“And instead of getting two hours of entertainment, you’re getting eight hours of entertainment [per day]!” he said.
Winterfest will take place over the first weekend of the school holidays, and kids are encouraged to come along with their families.
There will be a Winterfest Costume Display and Cosplay competition over the weekend, so all event-goers are encouraged to wear medieval-inspired or fantasy-style outfits - all medieval periods, cultures and styles are welcome. (Dress-ups are optional, but fun nonetheless.)
Highlights include the Winterfest Jousting Tournament - a demonstration where punters can watch professional jousters like Mr Beattie face-off against one another. There will also be Mounted Skill-at-Arms demonstrations, showcasing the skills required for knights in training and for battle.
The Full Flight Birds of Prey show will display raptors soaring above and through the crowd, and there will be educational talks about birds of prey in Australia and the history of falconry.
There will also be Melee Battles with knights in armour from a range of historical periods, which concludes with the 'Grand Melee’.
Visitors will be able to take a stroll down ‘Re-enactors's row’, where they can try helmets, armour, shields and weapons. There will be friendly re-enactors from the dark ages through to the 17th century, as well as hands-on activities including archery, Celtic drumming, and the chance to learn to use a rapier (a thin, light sharp-pointed sword).
Children have the opportunity to practice their skills with (safe) swords and get creative by colouring-in medieval-themed drawings and decorating swords and shields. Punters will also have the chance to meet and greet the Winterfest ‘unicorns’.
There will also be a Village Green with lots of educational and interactive displays and activities, and visitors can take a stroll through the Merchant's Row and browse the range of stalls including artisan and handcrafted wares.
There will be roaming entertainers, including 'Feldergast the Fool' the wandering jester, face-painting for children and, of course, a selection of food vendors to choose from.
Tickets can be purchased via the Winterfest website: adults are $20 for a day or $30 for a two-day pass; concessions cost $17.50/$22.50; children 5-17 years are $10/$15; and children under five years old are free. There are also deals for families of two adults and three children.
For more information about Winterfest and to purchase tickets, visit the Winterfest website at winterfest.com.au.