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Guinea pigs and goldfields: Grenfell's Henry Lawson Festival

10:30 AEST Thu Feb 24 2011
In the late 1800s, Grenfell was a goldmining hot spot. It produced more of the precious metal than any other town in NSW. That led to it having more bushrangers than any other town in the state.

These days the town of 2500 residents is a quieter place, that is until each June long weekend when the Henry Lawson Festival gets underway. It's been running since 1958 and goes from Wednesday until Monday and celebrates poet's birth and contribution to the arts.

Kelly Landry went along to see how the locals celebrate the life and works of one of Australia's most loved and famous poets. Henry Lawson was born on Grenfell's goldfields in 1867, and he has been immortalised in his home town with a bust in the main street and a monument under a sugar gum planted by his daughter, Bertha.

There's no shortage of exhibitions and competitions. Art, quilting, photography, car show, verse and short story all get a run. There are street activities and stalls, busking, wood chopping, a fun run, guinea pig races and, of course, a procession of floats made up of decorated utes, trucks, trailers and horses and carts.

Poetry plays a huge part as you would expect. There's Poetry on the Boards, Poetry Slam and Poetry in the Park. The spirit of Henry Lawson is alive and well at the old railway station and anybody can get up and string a few words together. On Sunday morning people gather around a campfire for billy tea and damper and listen to people reading their poems.

In the afternoon, it's off to the races at a local property. It could be the highlight of the festival. Punters arrive in their best clothes and study the form guide before placing their hard-earned with a bookie. It's all quite competitive and everyone cheers on their favourite guinea pig. That's right. Grenfell's big race day is the Pinnacle Guinea Pig Races. They race for the Silver Slipper, which is actually an old boot painted silver.

Preparations begin well in advance. Umbrella grass has to be removed before the big day as the guinea pigs tend to stop for a munch during the race. Without distractions they can reach up to 70km/h!

Someone lent Kelly a guinea pig to enter and while it didn't exactly streak across the line, it was love at first sight.

Henry's time on earth wasn't exactly happy. He lived in poor circumstances, he was teased because of his deafness, his parents divorced, as Henry later did, and he spent periods in institutions for his alcoholism as well as in jail for failing to support his family.

His passion and love of the Australian bush never wavered and much of his works were set in or about the bush. On his death in 1922, crowds lined the streets to farewell Australia's Poet of the People.

Location

Grenfell, less than five hours west of Sydney.

Cost

The Henry Lawson Festival is held in Grenfell every June long weekend.

Hertz has a great range of vehicles and rates. Log on to www.hertz.com.au for details.

Virgin Blue has one-way flights to Sydney from:

    Melbourne $92
  • Brisbane $95
  • Adelaide $119
  • Perth $229

There are limited seats, which may not be available at peak times or on all flights. Fares quoted are one-way booked on the internet. An extra $15 will be charged for phone bookings. A credit card surcharge of an additional $2 per person per one-way flight is applicable. Fares are correct at February 24, 2011, and are subject to change.

Prices correct at February 24, 2011.

For further information

Virgin Blue
Ph: 136 789
www.virginblue.com.au

Grenfell Henry Lawson Festival
Ph: (02) 6343 2855
www.grenfell.org.au/henrylawsonfestival

Hertz
Ph: 133 039
www.hertz.com.au

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