Pumpkin Festival

The town of Collector, in the state of New South Wales, Australia, is home to some 150 souls. The closest landmark of interest is Lake George. Although the lake covers some sixty square miles, and was once mistaken by an early explorer for the Pacific Ocean, it is more often than not completely devoid of water. Due to a little-understood geological process, it is in the habit of suddenly filling and draining without warning. For much of the time, then, the lake bottom is used as grazing land for cattle.

The towns only story of historical significance relates the tale of a long-running feud between two families of settlers, a litany of drunken brawls, stolen sheep, and overnight stays in jail. So when the good burghers of Collector decided to try to raise the profile of their town, they had precious little to go on. However, one resident, recently returned from a holiday in Europe, had attended a pumpkin festival there, and he had enjoyed himself so much that he suggested at a Collector council meeting that they should follow suit. Disregarding the inconvenient facts that not only had Collector never grown pumpkins before, but also that the area was in a permanent state of semi-drought, the council concurred, and the first Collector Pumpkin Festival was born. Through luck and hard work, and probably because all such efforts appeal to the Australian psyche (this is a country where boat races are held in dry gorges, and people will drive hundreds of kilometres to see a large concrete sheep, or a monument to a dog that crapped in its owners lunch box), it proved to be a great success, and has been held annually ever since.

At the festival, all the food is yellow. There is pumpkin soup, and hot dogs in pumpkin bread rolls, steak sandwiches ditto. Local restaurants set up tents and vie to sell the most exotic pumpkin recipe; I particularly remember being served a complete braised ox tail with a pumpkin and chilli sauce. Hundreds of people mill around the tents, sampling the foods and sipping beers, admiring the produce on display, and listening to the local band which is playing in the background, occasionally breaking off to heckle particular members of the audience, Alongside the stage, a man tends an enormous wooden still, from which he is dispensing, of all things, small bottles of lavender water. Nearby, Queensland pumpkin sellers, who must have travelled for days to get here, hawk the blue pumpkins for which they are famous.

On either side of the roadway, lines of pumpkins are mounted on crossed stakes; there is a prize for best-dressed pumpkin, and anybody can just pick a pumpkin and enter, using either the box of random fabric scraps or anything that they might have brought along.

Finally, a nearby barn is reserved for the serious business of judging. Clearly, villagers and nearby farmers been scrupulously tending to their pumpkins for quite some time, because there are all manner of squashes on display, ranging from the downright enormous to the very small, through a whole gamut of other categories such as best carved and strangest shaped. While some judge, others admire or (if they happen to be children), climb all over the exhibits.

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