With a conservative value of $50 million, the 500 motor homes, caravans, fifth wheelers and campervans filled the site at the fifth Stone the Crows Festival in Wagga Wagga over Easter.
One of the Chief Crows, Chrissy Eustace announced “There are 1018 people living on-site, 96 dogs, approximately 50 day visitors each day and, this morning, 280 people booked in for next year’s festival. With only 500 sites, that is more than half committed and paid up for the sixth festival which is a great endorsement.”
Participants come from across Australia for this festival with many there for the third, fourth and fifth visits. Allan Littleford has been ‘on the wallaby’ for 15 years with Easter in Wagga Wagga a fixed agenda on his calendar. “We sold the house, bought the recreational vehicle and have been traveling ever since 2002,” he explained. “I can’t imagine being in the same place all the time after seeing so much of Australia. We love waking to a new view every couple of weeks, and especially meeting new people.”
The Festival program is dense, varied and well patronised. The calibre of entertainers includes international acts thanks to the contacts and colleagues of two Wagga Wagga based performers, Grant Luhrs and Jim Haynes, also organisers of the Festival. Both are seasoned festival actors, song-writers and balladeers with respected reputations across the nation.
“As well as the night concerts, we hold a morning get-together for bush poetry, stories and announcements about the day’s activities,” Mr Haynes explained. “For the first time, we had the option of people joining the Squawkers Choir under the tutelage of Judy Ferguson, the musical director of the Wagga Male Rugby Choir.”
“Around 50 people participated and performed three songs at the concert tonight and they were really good. It is a testament to Judy’s skill this group could sing harmonies and three parts after only five hours of practicing together.”
The weather was a perfect Riverina autumn with cool nights and day-time temperatures at 23C. Many people bring their own food however dining in the food court was a favoured option with coffee vans, a Rotary Club BBQ and Ed’s Tucker Box providing fresh meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ed and Liz Delves are based near Coffs Harbour and are regular food providers at the Stone the Crow Festival.
“Queues form quite early for our fresh local tucker and we are prepared for the high demand. We travel to many festivals to provide top quality meals for the participants. We vary the menu each day so people can enjoy something different, just as they would at home,” Mr Delves explained.
The high number of visitors into Wagga for this festival for over-50s brings an estimated $445,000 into the city during the week the event is on. The Visitor Economy is vital to continuously bringing new money into the local economy with tourism a steadily growing sector in the region’s overall activities. First line representatives often are service stations as visitors buy fuel. The first impressions are frequently the service at these stops although the operators do not usually regard themselves as part of the tourism sector.
Many of the classes at Stone the Crows are based on performing – choir, ukulele making and playing, guitar classes, poetry readings, writing bush ballads and creating complimentary duos. The last concert includes the Talent Quest where, this year, hula dancing, singing, instrumental groups and country ballads were the acts of choice.
“We really encourage people to have a go, get close to the microphone and try; the audiences are always encouraging and, as a result of these opportunities to perform, each year we launch CD’s at the Festival which is an incredible achievement for many people who didn’t believe they had any talent at all,” said Mr Luhrs who runs his own recording studio in Wagga Wagga. “As a performer myself, to enable others to develop confidence and become recorded artists is often the greatest achievement of their life.”
The last day of the Festival is open to the public with a market operating from 0900 until early afternoon. The close-knit community is reluctant to leave and take to the roads again but, more than half have already marked Easter 2018 as they return to Wagga Wagga for the sixth Stone the Crows Festival.
For the three Chief Crows, Chrissy Eustace, Jim Haynes and Grant Luhrs, putting their feet up for a while will be well earned and deserved as yet another highly successful event closes and, the planning for the next one begins.