Call to arms: Cut and thrusts on the field of combat at the Rowany Festival. Photo: Steven SiewertHaving greeted Emperor Gavin, unpacked the axes, supped strawberry mead and listened to laments on the hurdy-gurdy – songs of cold nights and warm wine and the love of a monk for a choir boy – we settle in for the evening.
The morning brings rain and bull horns trumpeting in the gloom at the Rowany Festival, Australia’s largest gathering of pre-17th century “re-creationists”, set amid the eucalypts and scrub near Mittagong.
Novice fighters with swords and shields study the rules of combat on the “village green”. “Every time you die, figure out why it happened,” instructs Sir Gabriel de Beaumont (aka Alex West, bureaucrat).
Beside a stall marked Medieval Fight Club, a dead 70-kilogram pig is tied to a pole, and dressed in chain mail and a steel helmet. Men take turns stabbing it with swords and spears to study the impact of their blows on the flesh. Alfar of Household Attica (Tony Podolsak, high school history teacher) sticks a sword into the beast’s midsection. “Whoever pulls this out can be king,” he says, smiling.
He has thrice led the Kingdom of Lochac, which covers Australia and New Zealand (the current monarch is Gavin Tung, who works in IT). He’s wearing an ancient Greek tunic and occasionally stands in a chariot drawn by two men. Why don’t you have horses, I ask. “Insurance,” he says.
“This is living archaeology,” he says, looking around at the pinewood fort and pitched-roof tents. “The past forms us, it makes us.”
About 1200 people are expected to attend the six-day Easter festival, which is run by the Society for Creative Anachronism. The popularity of The Lord of the Rings and television show Game of Thrones has helped double the number of attendees in the past two years, Alfar says.
All participants wear period clothing to the event, which celebrates history in ideal terms, shorn of pestilence and poverty. “Mundane” titles are left behind at the registration desk. Society members choose their own names, prompting some people to call themselves Maximus or Crispin Sexy.
There is much play fighting with rattan swords and lessons on napkin weaving and how to travel light when you’re a combat archer. The level of commitment to the cause is admirable: one man is trialling an Elizabethan sailor’s diet of hard tack, beef and weak ale; another is wearing hand-stitched linen underpants.
People gather under a marquee on Friday morning to watch as 29-year-old Ariston (Rowan Lawrence) is knighted by royal decree. His mundane title is teacher of early modern European history. He joined the society at age 17 because of his love of history and trains once a week at combat fighting. “There is a bit of a cliche of fighters being jocks but it’s not true,” he says. “We are all, at some level, nerds.”
Also being dubbed thrice during the festival is Eva von Dazig (Claudia Linder, gym receptionist), who will become Australia’s first female knight. “I have always loved the ideals of the Middle Ages,” she says, before strapping on her breastplate. “Courtesy. Chivalry. I think some of those ideals might be lost in modern culture.”
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