“What if you go into labour? I’ll be on the back of the truck – I won’t be able to help you!”
It was 1970, and my husband Con was Master of Ceremonies at the Stanthorpe Apple and Grape Harvest Street Festival. He stood at the microphone on top of a semi-trailer in Maryland Street, describing events and announcing winners, with thousands of people partying around him. No place for a woman soon to give birth.
In the end I watched events from the verandah of the Country Club Hotel.
Con remembers lots of things about that day, such as the hotly-contested Packing Case Relay.
“There was a team of back-packers from one of the big orchards, all in matching t-shirts,” he says. “They were pretty sure of themselves. They’d even trained for it, carrying the packing cases on their shoulders in the approved style.
“They were beaten by a team of local lads wearing work boots and carrying the cases any way they liked! It was a great win.”
He remembers the facial hair competitions.
“Your father entered in the Best Side Levers competition.”
“No! My dad had competition-grade side levers? I don’t remember that!”
“Your dad didn’t win – Jimmy Esplin won. There was a Best Beard competition, too. They made me one of the judges. I was about the only man in town with a beard, which made me the expert!”
“Which horse won the Melbourne Cup that year?”
“Baghdad Note. Why?”
Con remembers, with advantages, every good joke he’s ever heard, and every Melbourne Cup winner by year, and he can tell me who won the Best Side Levers competition at the 1970 Apple and Grape Harvest Festival; but he can’t remember that we agreed to baby-sit the grandchildren next Saturday night or that the wattle tree out the front needs pruning. We’ve been debating for years over which of us has the worse memory.
“I remember Dad’s whiskers,” says my brother Mike. “He grew them especially for the competition. Don’t remember much else though, because I was busy on the High School fundraiser down the street – Bash a Bomb. We’d dragged in a broken-down car, and we charged people for the chance to bash it with sledge hammers. It was very popular! Don’t think it would go down so well these days.”
Con’s reminiscences continue.
“One float in the procession had a girl on top of a Mini-Minor, sitting on a swing. The driver kept lagging behind, then accelerating, then braking again. Every time he braked, the girl nearly flew out of the swing.
“Her boyfriend got sick of it. He opened the door of the Mini, told the driver to get out, and drove it himself for the rest of the parade.”
Matt was born a week after the Festival, and in the winter that followed our hot water pipes froze and burst, and the nappies iced up while soaking in the laundry tubs and hung stiff and frozen on the clothesline.
Frosty Stanthorpe weather is beautiful, and by nine in the morning, I could put the baby out on the verandah, naked, to soak up the sun.
Stanthorpe is an attractive town, unique in the State, with its granite boulders, wild flowers and autumn colours. The houses have the snug architecture of a cold climate, and the sweet smell of wood smoke hangs over the town for months of the year. Locals are proud of living in Queensland’s coldest town.
The Apple and Grape Harvest Festival still draws a crowd, every second year in early autumn when the harvesting season begins. The next Festival will be in 2020, from 28 February until 8 March. There will be a Wine Fiesta, Gala Ball, Fun Run, Grand Parade, Grape Crushing and fireworks, the National Busking Championships, and according to the website, lots more.
There’s no mention on the website of Bomb Bashing or Side Levers, though, so I don’t know how successful it will be.