There are plenty of surprises in the west, from one of Australia’s biggest and brightest celebrations of multiculturalism to a huge party in honour of a special local fungus.
There are plenty of characters out here, too, like Spike from the Hoochery distillery just outside of Kununurra. Arriving in the Kimberley in the 1970s, Spike later started up the Hoochery, and his operation would go on to become the state’s oldest continually operating legal distillery, brewing up local rum with the fruits of the area’s booming sugar cane industry.
The Hoochery is like stepping back in time, the saloon bar made from local timber and it houses an old piano and incongruous chandelier, the walls are full of farming equipment and ephemera. And if those walls could talk they would have a few tales to tell, because this was the site of the very first Ord Valley Muster back in 2001, a simpler affair with a gymkhana and cricket legend Dennis Lillee as the guest speaker.
Spike, whose distillery is now home to the comedy show at the now-much-bigger Muster, says that first outing is still his fondest memory of the big event.
As he tells it, the locals had dressed for one of the Kimberley’s usually warm evenings but a surprise cold snap soon had them running to put on some extra layers.
“It was like a cool room and all the women were there in their pretty dresses wearing denim jeans underneath, and guys were in slacks, shirts and ties with an old sweatshirt over the top, it brought us back to the fact that we are not city people,” Spike laughs.
Spike says the region encourages big characters by virtue of its isolation and the fact that a lot of people come to the Kimberley to reinvent themselves.
“To come to Kununurra you could be anything you wanted to be, one guy came to be a baker and he had never been a baker in his life,” says Spike. “The Kimberley is where the boabs grow naturally, it’s a rugged plateau with great scenery and isolation. Even today we are some of the most isolated businesses in the world. You have to go out into the Sahara Desert to get something this isolated. That makes us all a little bit different.”
Just nearby in Broome, there is an annual celebration of a different kind. Shinju Matsuri is a combination of several different festivals; the Japanese Obon Matsuri, the Malaysian Hari Merdeka, and the Hang Seng festival from China. This annual community party seeks to celebrate the many different cultures that have helped form Broome and the surrounding region. This is an area where people came to make their fortune hunting elusive pearls and stayed for the area’s unique natural beauty. The festival is also known as The Festival of the Pearl.
Shinju Matsuri, which celebrated 45 years of diversity in 2015, has a range of events from the Sunset Long Table dining evening to the Floating Lantern Matsuri as well as a range of other surprising celebrations. You can wake up Sammy the Chinese dragon – the Shinju Matsuri mascot for over four decades – at the festival’s launch party, attend the mardi gras concert or get involved in the Shinju Matsuri art awards.
In the south-west of the state, the Manjimup Truffle Kerfuffle is a unique celebration of one of the world’s most expensive foods. A party surrounding the start of the black truffle season in June the Kerfuffle has local markets, cooking demonstrations, and also allows participants to get their hands dirty with a real truffle hunt.
“The festival has a hands-on and adventurous atmosphere. Our truffle hunts give you the chance to join the hunters and their truffle dogs as they sniff out and unearth what is the third most expensive ingredient in the world,” says Max Brearley, Truffle Kerfuffle festival director. “Of course there is also the opportunity to get your truffle fix by eating your way through the festival marketplace where there is a bounty of truffles, local food, wine and produce on offer. ”
Visitors can taste and experience all that truffle country has to offer with events like a Truffle Growers Breakfast and fireside chats by chefs who will teach you about this precious foodstuff.
“The festival has a knack of attracting a diverse and talented range of chefs from around Australia,” says Max. “The down to earth atmosphere and chance for them to cook with such a prized ingredient in the place they are grown is pretty special. If you love truffles, Truffle Kerfuffle is the place in Australia to celebrate that. ”
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