While Dark Mofo and the other major events around Hobart throughout the year do their bit to attract lots of interstate and overseas visitors, Tasmania’s regional festivals help draw locals and visitors alike out into the regions.
The Huon Valley Midwinter Festival, after just four years, is a leader among these. Based at, and arising from the team at Willie Smith’s Cider and Apple Shed, it is what an academic colleague of mine once termed a ‘festival of misrule‘, by which he meant an event at which the usual constraints of society are somewhat relaxed and participants are permitted through attendance to let down their hair and cut loose – albeit with impeccably organised parking, toilets and health and safety.
The event takes its inspiration from the old English tradition of wassailing, whereby apple trees are ‘woken’ from their winter slumber with food, booze and a general racket, to ensure plenty of fruit – and cider – in the following year.
Old Apple tree we’ll wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear.
The Lord does know where we shall be
To be merry another year.
To blow well and to bear well,
And so merry let us be.
Let every man drink up his cup
And health to the old apple tree.
Here’s to thee, old apple tree,
That blooms well, bears well.
Hats full, caps full,
Three bushel bags full,
An’ another pile under the stair.
Wassailing has deep pagan roots, and these – along with, one suspects, a deal of Game of Thrones fandom – inspires creative dressups and a weekend of bonfires, feasting and (responsible) drinking, particularly of Willie Smiths’ excellent range of organic ciders.
The wassail is the centrepiece of the three day event on the Saturday evening; this year a Burning Man Lantern Parade was added to the Friday evening, although given those pagan links, one suspects that the inspiration is as much related to the Wicker Man as to the US Burning Man event of hipster bucket lists.
The program is rounded out by a family day on the Sunday, and a multi-stage program of live music, Morris dancing, stalls selling locally-produced food and drink and plenty of firepits to keep warm by.
The Willie Smiths story itself is interesting. The Smith family have been orchardists in the Huon Valley for generations. Somehow they survived the downturn of the 1970s caused by Britain’s entry into the Common Market, which at a stroke annihilated Tasmania’s apple industry, causing many growers in the Huon Valley to grub out their orchards and turn to other crops, or to leave the land entirely.
A new generation led by Andrew Smith realised the need to produce a high-end, value added product and market it to well-heeled urban elites at a price that would be more than sustainable. Thus Willie Smith’s Organic Cider was born, followed by the Willie Smiths Apple Shed as its spiritual home. They are one of many high profile producers in the Huon Valley south of Hobart who have turned to high-end markets for their boutique products and services.
The Huon Valley Midwinter Festival undoubtedly serves a marketing role in promoting Willie Smiths and other regional producers, but has quickly grown to embody a greater significance and capture the imaginations of its growing audience. That it draws thousands of visitors to the region at an otherwise quiet time of year is the golden bonus for their efforts.
Huon Valley Midwinter Festival www.huonvalleymidwinterfest.com.au
Willie Smiths Cider www.williesmiths.com.au
Willie Smiths Apple Shed www.williesmiths.com.au/apple-shed
Tastes of the Southern Trove southerntrove.com.au/tastes-of-the-trove
Visit the Huon Valley and Channel hobartandbeyond.com.au/huon-valley-channel