Does Australia Have Medieval Festivals?

Unbeknown to most, Australia has a very vibrant and healthy community dedicated to the old ways…the ways of mead, jousting and falconry. We sent our best off to go experience this absolute gem of an event tucked away in the forests north of Sydney.

Heading off to cover St Ives Medieval Fayre in Sydney for Festivalworlds we didn’t really know what to expect. Even though we’d been talking about it for a month or so and had checked out the website we still weren’t sure exactly what the vibe would be like, whether it would hold our attention and how this would compare to other festivals we’ve attended.

Festivals are gatherings of like-minded people with similar tastes who want to enjoy and celebrate their shared passion together. It could be beer, a love of smashing tomatoes into people’s faces or a particular style of music. In this case, it was medieval life that we were off to immerse ourselves in and celebrate with others.

I wasn’t thinking about any of this at the time. I was thinking this’ll be a fun day out with my buddy, Rory, wearing ‘Medieval Monk’ fancy dress outfits enjoying the nerdiness of it all and sampling a few flagons of beer (nay meade) at ye olde tavern.

The first thing that struck me was the turn-out. Sydney had turned out in force. More people, than not, were in costume and it was a really mixed crowd in terms of age and gender. There were incredibly committed re-enactors, who’s portrayal of medieval life as knights, vikings, peasant folk, royals, musicians and falconers gave the festival a surreally real feel. There were LARP (Live Action Role Play) groups and individuals who remained in character for the 2 days of festivities. There were newbs like Rory and I, who were accepted largely thanks to our, by real LARP standards, very basic, Monk gear. And there were medieval-curious civilians, young and old, not in fancy dress but happy, smiley revellers. The sizeable attendance at the St Ives Medieval Fayre proves that shows like Game of Thrones and Vikings have put medieval-ness back into contemporary mainstream culture. That’s a red-hot dissertation topic right there.

The second thing that struck me was a Latex LARP dagger thrown by a young female assassin. No, really.

And the third thing, which made the day as much fun as it was, was how approachable everybody was and how happy they were to talk about their character or the era they were from, a lot of the time in amazing detail. We were able to joke with everyone we met. While the history and detail may be real the re-enacting is …..well, acting, which is playful and fun. It was ok to laugh at some of the great performances and enjoy the kind of escapism that Medieval Fayre offers it’s guests. Everybody we met was having the medieval time of their little LARP lives. It’s impossible not to enjoy yourself when everyone around you is that into something and having that much fun.

Some of the days highlights;

•    The ‘Mad Monk’ meade at ye-olde tavern. Thanks bar wenches
•    Lord Geoffrey winning valiantly in sword combat with heartfelt blessings from Monk Rory…..and his hanky
•    Mingling with other monks, meeting a Mongolian warrior and sharing a flagon with a mischievous druid
•    Ricarda’s amazing hurdy gurdy skills and the other medieval musicians who took us back in time
•    Monk Rory’s meade-fulled Gregorian chant freestyle
•    The brave knight who took a pretty serious tumble in the first tournament- that’s commitment
•    The New Varangian Guard who’s Viking battle re-enactment was bone-crushingly good
•    Getting to hold one of Paul-Michael’s birds of prey at the Persian Falconry
•    The trebuchet in action- you really wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that!

“The St Ives Medieval Fayre took us on a journey.” Tom Gregory

We left our 21st century day-to-day behind us as we navigated through scenes (and smells) from the 9th to 13th century, meeting each era’s friendly inhabitants as we went. So we met a load of new people, got into character (bad-monks), LARPed a bit, publicly flirted with a knight in front of his betrothed, cheered on as Viking soldiers were brutally dispatched by swords & daggers, drunk meade (9% alc/vol), bought wooden daggers, got up close and personal with some big-taloned birds (of prey) and got seduced by the psychedelic discord of the hurdy gurdy.

As I said at the beginning, we arrived not knowing what to expect, perhaps even a bit cynical and wondering whether the medieval fayre would hold our attention and be as entertaining as it was. Day 1 of the St Ives Medieval Fayre was a hit on so many levels and we were sad to leave.

Will we Medieval Fayre again? Hell, yes. We were asking our new LARP buddies about future events and there’s a busy schedule of meets and fayres around the country, some big mainstream ones like St Ives and some a bit more underground, like a 6 day Medieval camping fest at a hush-hush secret location, which sounds like the Glastonbury of the Medieval Fayres. Hope to see you there…..on the sacrificial alter perhaps.