The month-long Blackheath Rhododendron Festival turns 60 this year, making it the longest continuously-running community event of its kind in Australia.
An early celebration of this milestone was held on Friday, October 19 at the New Ivanhoe Hotel where the traditional crowning of the Rhodo Princess — this year Lydia Zandstra — was witnessed.
In typical “cheeky” Rhododendron Festival style, a special 60th birthday cake was made for the occasion featuring a raincoat-clad festivalgoer holding an umbrella — a light-hearted reference to rain falling on many a Rhododendron Festival’s grand parade over the years.
Linda Collier declared this year’s festival officially open and shed some light on how Rhodo Fest changed since its debut on October 31, 1953.
She said previous festival events included a baby show, cooking competitions, car rallies, a 20km fun run and even wheelie bin races and a wrestling tournament.
“On February 9, 1950 a meeting was held in St Aiden’s Church hall organised by Blackheath Rotary Club and what came out of that was the formation of a committee to create a Rhododendron Festival that would not only provide a great annual community event in Blackheath but generate profit for a Rhododendron Festival Fund to be used for local community projects,” Mrs Collier said.
“Recent projects to benefit from the festival include street replanting, new lights in the community hall and re-painting of Jenny Kee’s waratah mural in the town centre.
“The sub-committees and volunteers are the real unsung heroes of this festival, so may those that follow have as much inspiration and vision as their predecessors.”
2012 Blackheath Rhododendron Festival president Sabine Erika said the volunteers and the tremendous response by individuals and local small businesses that have sponsored the event in the past 60 years was what the festival was all about.
Lydia Zandstra said she felt very priviliged to be crowned the princess.
“Last week I organised the inaugural Rhododendron High Tea event at Glenella Guesthouse, which was attended by the first Rhododendron Queen crowned in the 1950s so that was very special,” Ms Zandstra said.
“I really enjoyed it and I am looking forward to attending all 2012 Blackheath Rhododendron Festival events until the end of November, including the grand parade on Saturday, November 3.”
The festival’s 44th Annual Art Show at Blackheath Community Centre begins on October 27 and runs until Sunday, November 4 while the Campbell Rhododendron Gardens are open for inspection until Monday, November 5.
Next week’s Blue Mountains Gazette will include a full guide to this year’s festival.