Larping in Lithgow: Exploring Lost Worlds at Ironfest 2017
Steampunks and cosplayers meet medievalists and reenactors at Ironfest 2017, Lithgow’s arts festival where the geeks reign supreme.
Lost World is the theme of this year’s Ironfest, an event that brings together New South Wales’ steampunks, cosplayers, medievalists and anyone else who fancies escaping their own world for a day. Ostensibly, there’s a Jurassic Park theme, as illustrated by the large plastic dinosaur greeting festival-goers as they enter the arena in Lithgow, a former mining town in the Blue Mountains two hours west of Sydney.
The Jurassic Park connection ends there, as for the remainder of the weekend there will be not a flicker of anything pertaining to the jurassic period, but plenty from the neo-Victorian era, one in which a post-apocalyptic future has caused the survivors to stumble around sporting mechanical contraptions and dystopian goggles. Slip them over your eyes and you’ll discover that everything still looks the same. Think Mad Max with a side order of HG Wells, though judging by the dimensions of many steampunks, in this brave new world the scarcity of resources doesn’t extend to food.
Wandering around the site at Lithgow Showground is a surreal experience, one that provides a potted history (or a Pottered one in the case of the Gryffindors and Slytherins) in which Roman emperors rub shoulders with stormtroopers and superheroes cosy up to musketeers.
Stalls sell shamanic wands, ‘imaginary adventure tools’ and promote Bujinkan Japanese martial art. There’s a tent dedicated to Lithgow Christ Connection, another for The Society for Creative Anachronism and, further down, a banner that reads 7 things to know about mould non-toxic mould solutions.
There’s no time to ponder though for the World War II reenactment is about to start. Tanks roll into the arena, heavy artillery booms and smoke drifts across the grass as combatants trade gunfire and rescue wounded colleagues. It’s a stark reminder of the colossal human sacrifice that was made in the war…or at least it is until the action culminates in the medieval knights charging into the arena and getting instantly BTFO by German rail guns. The smoke clears to reveal dozens of knights templars sprawled on the grass, mown down by a technology that’s still 700 years away. Top Aussie bantz.
Australians are better known for their verbal jousting, but there’s also the equestrian type to be savoured as armoured horsemen charge at each other with balsa wood lances. Meanwhile, on the concourse, cosplayers totter by on stilts waving parasols and sporting elf ears. Many are equipped in the steampunk starter kit of top hat and goggles, but a handful have gone to more elaborate lengths to illustrate the 19th century retro-futuristic realm they crave.
At times, it’s hard to tell who’s wearing a dress pannier and who was simply born that way. It would be fair to say that Ironfest attracts a particular breed of cosplayer, the sort whose idea of escapism during the week involves a dozen Krispy Kreme and a three-litre bottle of Mountain Dew.
But this weekend it is their time to shine. It’s an opportunity for the voluptuous, the curvy and the morbidly obese to accentuate their features as boobs are pushed out and waists corseted in. For one weekend only they get to experience what it’s like to live life on easy mode, attracting the sort of glances that are normally the preserve of skinny girls. The plus-size females can become head turners and the beta males can become dragon-slaying alphas.
It’s a sad reality that the elfin beauties who should be in hotpants and halter tops are laden in layers and the sorts who should only be naked in a darkened room have got it all out; every spot of cellulite, stretch mark and fold. It’s okay though, as today no one is judging (snarky bloggers aside) because everyone’s too busy larping hard.
At a tent named Wounded Jurassic, kids have gaping cuts applied to their necks while cosplayers stroll past dressed as despots and dictators. If you were wanted for war crimes, you could hide out here and never get found.
You can buy Viking sausages and Dutch pancake, which sounds like some sort of scatalogical atrocity, but there’s no beer. Ironfest is dry. There are plenty of other ways to expend your AUD though, on hand-forged daggers and truncheons and original Nazi memorabilia. A woman eats ice cream with a quiver of arrows casually slung over her shoulder while the scent of wood smoke drifts over the arena and in the distance comes the rhythmical thunk of the blacksmith’s anvil.
To the uninitiated – the Chads and Stacys who will never know what it’s like to blow $1,000 on a suit of armour – it must all seem ridiculous, but to those on the inside, the ones who’ve fashioned their survival suit out of car tyres, chains and buckets, there’s a sense of kinship and solidarity that the normies will never get to feel.
For the festival-goers who devote their spare time to mastering swordsmanship and jousting, it’s mostly just harmless escapism. They don’t expect their olde worlde skills to have any sort of practical application in their day to day lives. Still, if our current civilisation does turn to shit quicker than expected, ushering in the post-apocalyptic world its proponents have always dreamed of, it is the geeks who will inherit the earth. This is what the end of the world will look like: people with longswords and axes fighting over the last working cash machine.
The day culminates with a medieval ruckus that sees knights charging at each other with shields raised and blades extended. Officially, these are the outcasts from mainstream society, the outsiders whose tastes are too unconventional for the fake-tanned, teeth-whitened TOWIE-types to ever understand.
It’s easy to joke about betas guarding their virginity with sword and shield, but they’re not the losers here: we’re the ones having perfunctory sex and binging Netflix while they’re experiencing true kinship and brotherhood we will never know.
It’s possible to endure a 20-hour flight to Australia without suffering a trace of jet lag and yet after four hours at Ironfest you emerge back into the 21st century nursing a bad case of time lag. Today we’ve learned that if you’re plump you will look even plumper in steampunk and that in a Medieval vs WWII battle, the knights would get rekt. Deus vult.