Jedi and medieval knights, armoured tanks and giant steam tractors, steampunks and blacksmiths, Nazi soldiers and cosplay characters. Where would you find all of these in one place?
Ironfest at Lithgow nominally celebrates the birth of Australia’s steel industry in that city. As one of the two remaining blast furnaces in Australia stands in receivership down in Whyalla and the other also struggles to compete against cheap imported steel Lithgow’s steel history seems all too applicable to today.
But while history is fundamental to Ironfest it is also a celebration of the the creative spirit of the Blue Mountains and beyond.
This was our first visit to the festival. We wound our way up across the scenic Great Western Highway past townships lined with yellow and red autumn trees and over the kilometre high range to Lithgow’s show grounds.
Reflecting the festival theme the skies above us were a magnificent and dramatic steel grey.
Having prepurchased tickets on line we skipped the queues and joined the crowd inside. Many were dressed for the occasion. Young ladies in tight corsets and stomping boots, men with round glasses and top hats and capes. Superheroes and soldiers, kids in plastic armour, adults dressed as animals. Only someone in business attire would have felt out of place.
There were stalls selling everything from steampunk Nerf guns to tin signs and fairy dresses. Healing crystals and car catalysts with the same efficacy. Even one stall with R2D2, Daleks and K9. The blacksmiths hammered away on anvils to make knives and knick knacks.
We purchased hamburgers and hot dogs for lunch and watched the Sons of Obi-Wan have mock lightsaber duals. Perhaps Anakin’s problem was that he wasn’t tattooed and bearded, though he did share a preference for black.
Historical anachronisms abounded. In front of the main stands Alvin armoured scout vehicles jousted, only to be beaten by knights on horseback. A steam tractor slowly trundled past an ancient Greek warrior. Nazi soldiers, sounding rather Eastern European, camped next to post World War II armoured vehicles from Britain and the United States.
Then a demonstration of falconry and birds of prey. We later had a chance to view these magnificent birds up close.
Over in the Medieval Encampment Alex played mock sword battles with other children and discovered just how heavy Medieval helmets and chain mail actually were. We watched a series of fights between armoured knights and Vikings slashing and stabbing with great enthusiasm.
In the background we could hear cosplay participants being judged. As we moved away from the arena they were replaced by cannon fire and gunshots as more modern soldiers engaged in simulated battles.
But despite the violence inherent in most of the activities the atmosphere at Ironfest was one of friendliness and joy as those who may find themselves on the fringe of normal interests have a chance to openly celebrate them. Even if you may not share those interests, as a spectator is difficult not to be caught up in the enthusiasm that pervades the festival.
There was too much to take in for a single day, but we needed to return to Sydney before darkness fell. Unfortunately, that also meant skipping a meal at one of the many wonderful eateries that can be found in the quaint townships that line the highway through the mountains.
Perhaps influenced by the European nature of much of Ironfest we felt like a German meal and decided to stop at Beverly Hills. Nowhere near as glamorous as its American counterpart, the stretch along King Georges Road feels itself like some kind of historical anachronism, decades out of step with the rest of the city. There’s even a suburban cinema.
The Rhinedorf didn’t open for an hour and we were hungry. Alex has been pestering us for a while to visit Pancakes on the Rocks, so we walked there instead, past the numerous yet to open Chinese and Japanese/Korean restaurants. As I have mentioned elsewhere, chains of family restaurants are increasingly rare in Sydney. There’s something comforting about eating in one that isn’t a cheap takeaway joint.
Ironfest was well worth the trip up into the mountains and we’ll definitely consider returning in future. May both it and Australian steel have a strong future.