A very pleasant weekend was spent with visitors from Melbourne who came to attend the inaugural Spud Fest – a local celebration for the International Year of the Potato, because this area was once famous for growing them. There were displays of more than 20 varieties of potatoes, old photographs showing farming with horse drawn ploughs, vintage machinery, cooking competitions and potato themed food prepared by the town’s eateries. The acres given over to the humble spud, in its many varieties, are fewer now, but the locals still grow them and are proud of their Irish heritage.
After the gold rushes, and in the early 20th century this town and the surrounding area supported as many as 70 thousand people with many small villages, schools, businesses , numerous pubs, and a large mobile workforce of timber cutters and potato diggers. The resident population now is about 700 people. A highlight of the weekend was a tour organised by the Historical Society where we were taken to see the few remaining potato digger’s huts on private farms, which are usually not accessible – small timber or brick single roomed huts used by the itinerant diggers as they moved from farm to farm to dig the potatoes by hand. Most have now disintergrated or been burnt down, but once there were more than 80 around the town. It would have been a cold and lonely life, and we were told many were heavy drinkers, perhaps to help cope with their hardships.
I am without my sewing machine for at least a week – it went today to be serviced, and to have a small electronic glitch sorted out. I guess I can cope without it for that time, as I have a couple of old ones – an Elna Lotus and a Featherweight if I really need to sew something, but the sewing room still looks very empty without it. While in Bendigo I went to see the exhibition of Fashion in the Age of Queen Victoria at the Art Gallery, a collection of about 27 dresses and accessories from the Darnell Collection which is open until July 20th. It is well worth seeing for anyone interested in textiles or sewing. The dresses are exquisite and beautifully made with extraordinary embellishments. The other thing is they are tiny; my estimate would be that none of the women who wore these garments would have been over five feet tall, and had waist measurements that are hard to believe. My favourite piece was a mourning mantle, black and heavily embellished with fine black braid, embroidery, beads and fringing.