Steampunk meets Napoleon – on a World War 2 Battlefield…

The sound of a shell fired from the World War 2 tank rang out across the field, the boom and compression of the explosion sending a shiver down the spine of all in proximity…

 Men in khaki and camouflage fatigues were hitting the ground to avoid the inevitable fall-out from the shrapnel, weapons at the ready as they lay silently waiting for the order to advance on the German line.

The rattle of machine gun fire ringing out from the bunkers and motorcycle side-cars was deafening as the Germans fought to protect their ground, shrouded for a time behind the white plume of smoke that was by now drifting across the battlefield.

Mind you, some of the soldiers ambushed on “patrol” were a about a quarter-of-a-century too late for the encounter given it was a mock battle between American and German World War 2 forces; the advance party were dressed and kitted out for the jungles of Vietnam…!

But hang-on, what are those Vikings doing on the battlefield?

Didn’t they have their run a few centuries ago marauding and pillaging their way across England?

And aren’t those fancy looking blokes dressed to the “nines” with the feather plumes on their headgear “Frenchies” from the days when Napoleon was barking out orders as he roamed the countryside looking for trouble?

The scene was unfolding at Ironfest 2017 in the Central Tablelands township of Lithgow.

Ironfest is an arts festival that explores the relationship between humans, metal and identity and is held annually at the Lithgow Showground. It brings together artists, designer-makers, blacksmiths, and performers of all kind, musicians, Steampunkers, as well as historical re-enactors and steam-machine enthusiasts from all over Australia…

TomO, the Crown Prince, is a member of Ausreenact, a non-political World War 2 living history organisation made up of members who share a common interest in history and militaria, with a particular focus on the uniforms, equipment and vehicles of the Allied and Axis forces in the period 1939-1945. He re-enacts as a member of the US Forces 2nd Armoured Division and has quite a collection of gear and equipment he has assembled from the era and which he proudly had on display in his “bunker” during the weekend.

Each year Ausreenact, along with a number of other military groups, including those dedicated to Napoleonic re-enactment and Knights from medieval times, are invited to attend and take part in the festival.

No wonder the “battle-ground” was chaotic…

Medieval swords flashed and clashed to the boom of Napoleonic guns that were challenging the armoured vehicles from more modern times.

When the Knights were not swinging their swords in battle they were charging at each other in a medieval jousting match.

And here I was thinking how macho I must look wielding the whipper-snipper with menacing precision each time I trim the moraya hedge at home. Strewth, talk about starting to feel just a tad inadequate.

So I’ll just move on…

Away from the “battlefields” there was the sound of iron striking iron on anvils as blacksmiths demonstrated their craft, beads of sweat rolling down their faces as they forged metal into works of art.

And hey, what about all those Steampunk people…?

Steampunk I hear you ask? I too had to look up the definition of a “Steampunker” and I am still not sure I have it right.

One of the best definitions for a Steampunker I have come across is from Jess Nevins, author of the Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana (it hasn’t come up on my book club read list yet) who said…

“Steampunk is what happens when Goths discover brown.”

The costumes were as varied as the people that dressed in this fashion genre inspired by the Victorian era of steam and industrial machinery. I think it was the default costume for many who attended the festival.

But the Steampunkers seemed a happy bunch even if the women’s corsets appeared three sizes to small and their mode of transport was from another age if not simply strange…

Without doubt this weekend is possibly the two days of the year the various groups can safely come out from behind closed doors and still look normal; safety in numbers, so they say.

The activity was as diverse as it was frenzied, but somehow it all worked and integrated in a way that you would not think possible and I even got to take Janet-Planet on the cruise she has always wanted to do…

On the infamous “Love Boat”…

Photos: Baz – The Landy & Janet-Planet, Lithgow, Australia…

 

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Remembering our Courageous Fallen (ANZAC Day)

Baz and a Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel, Menari Village, Papua New Guinea
Baz and a Fuzzy Wuzzy Angel, Menari Village, Papua New Guinea

The 25th of April is a day that Australian’s reflect on the military service Australian men and women have given to our country. 

To remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice; to remember the Australian men and women who are currently serving in theatres of war, and in peace keeping roles around the world.

To all I say, thank you.

Something close to me is the time I spent living in Papua New Guinea and the times that I have visited since leaving, more recently in 2006 when I walked the Kokoda Track with a good mate, Bob Todd.

The Kokoda Track saw some of most fierce fighting that Australian troops have ever faced.

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice - Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea
Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice – Kokoda Track, Papua New Guinea

And we should never forget the sacrifices that were made by our good friends, legends of the Kokoda Track, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angelsthe Papuan New Guineans who carried supplies and our wounded, often making the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of an unyielding foe.

Standing at the top of the final hill after six days along The Track, Bob and I looked back over the ranges and I swear we could hear that distinctive Aussie drawl…

 The sounds of mates helping their mates.

An enduring Australian quaility - Mateship. Bob and Baz, the Kokoda Track trails into the distance behind us
An enduring Australian quality – Mateship

And I’m sure that on this day if you were to stand on the battlefields of the Somme or the beaches of Gallipoli, if you listen carefully, you too will hear our boys and girls; the men and women who never returned home to loved ones!

Our memory of them will live on forever…

Lest We Forget

Kokoda
Our memory of them will live on forever – Lest We Forget (photo credit: Australian War Museum)

 

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, and Sacrifice.

Kokoda

An anniversary passed a couple of days ago marking 70 years since a defining moment in Australian history, the Kokoda Track campaign in the jungle of Papua New Guinea.

Starting on July 21, 1942 and lasting until 16 November of the same year it was more than a battle to save Port Moresby, and possibly Australia from a Japanese invasion, this was a time where the attributes of mateship truly shone through like a beacon to lead and guide future generations of Australians.

It is hard to stand at the monument at Isurava, which looks down to Kokoda and not be moved. The fighting here was intense, and it was in this very place that Private Bruce Kingsbury committed an act of bravery and valour that ultimately led to his own life being lost, and for which he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, Australia’s highest Military Award.

Courage, Endurance, Mateship, Sacrifice

A few years ago I stood at the very rock where Private Kingsbury fell, the scene was serene, and it was hard to imagine the heavy fighting that resonated from this hillside, the sound of Bren guns rattling, of Japanese mountain guns being fired over the ridge from nearby Deniki, not knowing where the shells would fall, or whose life they would next claim.

The story of the 39th Battalion is legendary, and the enormity of the task they faced has only in recent years started to be truly understood. Increasingly Australian’s are making the pilgrimage to Kokoda, walking the track in recognition of the suffering and sacrifice these men made, to pay homage where a family member fell, a father, an uncle.

Often mocked by the regular Australian forces, the 39th were essentially the equivalent of a Citizens Military Force. They faced an elite Japanese fighting force, the Sasebo, in the initial stages of the battle, but what they may have lacked in military prowess, if anything, was certainly overcome by the qualities of, mateship, courage, and endurance.

In 2006 I was fortunate to walk the track with a good mate, and a group of like-minded people and led by a man passionate about telling the story of the 39th.  Adopted by Australia, but of Irish descent, Aidan Grimes is an infectious person, with a typical Irish humour, who believes that the Australian quality of mateship is one of our country’s greatest assets.

Aidan Grimes

Aidan has walked the track more times than he can remember, and has spent countless hours talking to those involved in the campaign. He relayed their stories as we progressed along the 96 kilometre track to Owers Corner.

There wasn’t one dry eye to be seen as Aidan sang Danny Boy at the very spot that Stan Bissett cradled his mortally wounded brother, Lieutenant Harold ‘Butch’ Bissett, in his arms before he silently slipped away.

And we should never forget the sacrifices that were made by our good friends. Our Wantoks, legends of the Kokoda Track, the Fuzzy Wuzzy Angels, the Papuan New Guineans who carried supplies and our wounded, often making the ultimate sacrifice at the hands of an unyielding foe.

Standing at the top of the final hill after six days along the Track, we looked back over the ranges and I swear we could hear that distinctive Aussie drawl, the sound of mates helping their mates, our memory of them will live on forever…Lest We Forget.