Apple and Grape

“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.

stanthorpe 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.

Wild flowers and boulders

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.stanthorpe apple and grape logo

There’s no mention on the website of Bomb Bashing or Side Levers, though, so I don’t know how successful it will be.

Walking on Granite

Girraween?” said my hairdresser. “It’s lovely there. I had my first hangover at Girraween.”

Thirty kilometres south of Stanthorpe, in Queensland’s Granite Belt, famous for frost, stone fruit and wine, Girraween is beautiful, especially in spring, when the wildflowers are blooming. It’s a special place for many, including my family.



Con confirms Girraween’s past party status.

“I used to go out there from Stanthorpe. We called it Wyberba back then, and things were pretty casual. We’d have airbed slides down the cascades at the Junction, then have a barbecue and hold stubby races.”

“What do you mean, stubby races?”

“My mate Ross and me, we’d float our empty stubbies in the creek and bet on which one got to the bottom of the rapids first.”

By the time Con and I revisited Girraween National Park with our children, he had become a civilised person who would never throw bottles in a creek; especially in such a beautiful place as Bald Rock Creek, flowing through the park, past campgrounds and picnic areas.

We went there towing a little camper trailer. The campground was glowing with wattles that dropped yellow balls of blossom on the camper roof.

We took the kids walking along the tracks, down to the Junction through the wild flowers, and up to the top of the Pyramid.

Because it is coarse-grained, granite is easy to walk up, never slippery unless it is wet or eroded smooth where water runs down. All that is needed is a head for heights.

eddy rock

My mother was an artist who appreciated the sculptural shapes of the granite boulders and balancing rocks, sometimes adding granite sand and pieces of vegetation to give texture to her paintings.


The Granite Belt is inspirational for artists: the rocks with their fascinating shapes, their pinks and greys, glinting quartz crystals and blooms of lichen.


One recent early summer, Con and I visited Girraween, this time with our grandchildren. The sound of cicadas was everywhere: so loud it was deafening, a continuous, piercing, almost shrieking buzz. On a eucalypt beside the track a cicada shed its skin and unfolded its crumpled wings as we watched.



Empty cicada skins clung to every branch and tree trunk. The kids collected them and used them to decorate their jumpers and hats.


Our grandchildren enjoyed the rocks and caves, flowers and creek, but it’s the cicadas they remember most.

Our whole family has been to Girraween and Stanthorpe many times. I’d like to buy a house in the area, but only if I could have some boulders. If you live on the Granite Belt, you can expect a boulder or two in your yard. My cousin has built a house on top of a granite outcrop overlooking the National Park. She has a fine collection of boulders, and she’s building a garden among them. I envy her.


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