Well… we’re still recovering, still scratching our heads, still wondering what on earth happened on the weekend?!!!
For those not playing along, my little hometown of Thorpdale, here in the rolling Strzlecki Ranges of South Gippsland, is pretty much potato central. My family (and the majority of other families in our district) have grown potatoes in our rich volcanic soil for generations. In the mid-1970’s a potato festival was organised and ran very successfully for over 20 years, raising much needed funds for our little community and bringing a heck of a lot of promotion to our humble spuds. Thorpdale was infamous for ‘the spud fest’. I grew up with the festival being a regular event of my childhood, I knew no other way than the spud fest on the Labour Day long weekend! I vividly remember being at the footy oval in the dark, very early in the morning with Dad helping set up for the pallet stack, the hotly contested picking competitions and taking home the potato princess crown on a few occasions (as well as fiercely competing in the mash eating contest with my sister!) Then in the early 2000’s unfortunately the festival could no longer be run – extraordinary costs escalated even further, public liability insurance drowned us, the festival joined a lot of other community run events which could simply not function anymore. So sad, but a harsh reality.
Fast forward ten years…Thorpdale was still struggling to get much needed funds for our many and varied community groups: the kinder, the school, the footy club, the scouts, the cricket club, the recreation reserve, the local hall… My parents generation who instigated the festival in the 70’s and 80’s had done their bit, granted, it was now time for our generation to step up. Thorpy has a population of around 400 people – we have a pub, a bakery, a post office and a little tiny primary school. With a lot of community groups to service, it’s neigh on impossible to do that within the group of about 100 families. Funds need to come from outside the community for our little town to function. The spud festival used to bringing in a lot of money for the groups in need. So, a group of people got their heads together and wanted to bring the festival back. Yay!
Easier said than done… Fifteen months of a lot of hard work by the committee, headed by our fearless leader Jon and pro-organiser extraordinaire Nicole, countless meetings, so many hours spent away from family, on the phone, organising people, many spreadsheets, many late nights, many sponsors chased, many official/important/insurance boxes ticked and lists written, but once we got the ball rolling, we were away! In our first week back home last year when we moved back to Thorpy, we attended a committee meeting. It was high on my to-do list. Being back home and being fully immersed in our new/old community which I grew up in was exactly what we wanted, exactly why we’d made the decision to move home and raise our family here.
And so at last, Sunday dawned dewy and overcast, I was in at the rec. reserve at 7am to get this party started, I think Matt got there at some earlier ungodly hour. I can not stress enough the amount of work involved to put on an event like this for a tiny little community like ours. Bigger towns, sure, where there’s more people, more man power, more money. But here in Thorpy pretty much everyone has to help, or else nothing gets done, simple as that. Being such a small town too there is obviously a lot of crossover with volunteers: people are involved in the kinder, the scouts, the footy club and the hall committee, all at once! I was nominated gate co-ordinator (whose idea was that?! Ha, no it was fine, surprisingly!) We got off to a steady start with gates officially opening to the public at 9.30am. Slow and steady, in they came, parking cars in the neighbouring paddocks, selling raffle tickets on the gate too, we were killing it!
Then…at about 10-11am reports were coming in of traffic issues through town (the recreation reserve where the festival is held is just out of town, most traffic had to come through the main street of Thorpy). My mum/super Grandi was looking after Eleanor for the morning, as I assumed this would be the busiest time for me on the gate. She called me, stuck in a traffic jam. In Thorpdale. What the heck?! My mum’s house to Thorpdale is about 5km, takes a few minutes, she sat in the line of cars bumper to bumper for 45 minutes. Things exploded from there. Cars were lined up for 7km from the festival back through town. We couldn’t park cars fast enough, we had to grab the bolt cutters off the firetruck to open more gates to let the traffic flow, the local police were called for traffic management but not a whole lot could be done really. People were parking kilometres away and simply walking. The Thorpdale main street was packed, a line out the teeny tiny bakery’s door and down the street. We were swamped. The word had obviously spread about the return of the festival, and the people were coming in their thousands to welcome it back. It was overwhelming, it was surprising, but most of all it was so heart-warming to see all these people coming to support us. Little old us in our little old community, just trying to keep our heads above water! Just keep swimming…
I am so proud of how we handled the day – it was all hands on deck, and people who casually said they would lend a hand if needed somewhere absolutely got stuck in and spent all day on the gate, directing people in cars, selling tickets and bags of spuds into cars on the way out. For just how quickly the event exploded, exceeding all expectations, Matt and I were just remarking last night how amazed we were there wasn’t a major issue. An absolute credit to the organisers and committee, we were just little worker bees doing what we could.
My big brother Kelly was MC for the day and did an outstanding job, if I do say so myself, I’m so very proud of him. Back in the day this used to be my dad’s job, a little serendipitous to hear Kel’s voice booming across the footy oval commentating the picking heats and pallet throw events instead of Dad’s. As I scrambled between gates making sure they were manned, I saw so many familiar faces from the district – both current locals and so great to see many more who have moved away, grown up kids and gone to the city for uni or work, returned to the famous festival once again. It was quite simply bloody brilliant!
One of the best and most rewarding parts of the day was the promotion of our produce. Potatoes forever! We had hessian bags especially printed (with the logo I designed!) and sold 10kg and 20kg bags, something which surprisingly hadn’t been done before at previous festivals. This was a roaring success, the whole new ‘foodie’ movement has obviously boomed since the festival of the 80’s and 90’s, now a huge part of the festival was educating people on exactly how we grow potatoes, source seed, cultivate our soils, nurture our crops and eventually harvest and get the spuds onto your dinner plates! Education to the general public in the quality of brushed potatoes was definitely a highlight for me personally.
At the end of the day the committee collapsed in a heap, there was a ‘community only’ event which kicked on after the general public has left, to celebrate what an amazing success the return of the festival was. But to be honest, we were all in a bit of shock and disbelief! And exhausted. We needed to get 2000 people through the gates, we expected perhaps 3000-4000 people, we thought if we got 5000 we would be ecstatic – and very, very busy! At our early estimates (we initially had a counter on the gates but things got a bit too hectic for that!) we think there were between 8000-9000 people at the festival. Unbelievable. Who knew so many people missed our humble little spud festival?!
I’ve spied a few blog posts floating about regarding the potato festival, let me know if you came on Sunday, I’d love to hear feedback. Obviously there are many tweeks to go over and it was a great big learning curve – especially regarding food, every vendor sold out and lines were looooong. We just simply didn’t expect that many people! Here is a link to the ABC’s article and a little audio interview featuring our vice-president Stuart (and Sandra’s husband!)
This video by Lens Flair Productions gives a great snapshot of the day too, you can view it on their Facebook page by clicking here.
So incredibly proud of our little farming community, our little dot on the map town where we grow some pretty great spuds. From little things, big things grow. Especially proud of the younger generation of Thorpdale, country towns like ours really struggle with getting young people involved (and we all know the harsh reality of agriculture being an old man’s game, with the average farmer being in their 60’s). I’m so very humbled to be a part of something bigger, something meaningful and something pretty special that just happened. Wow.