Virus shuts down region’s biggest festivals

The opening of last years Festival of the Falling Leaf parade.

The region’s two biggest festivals have fallen victim to the coronavirus pandemic and increasing regulations set out by the government on social gatherings. The Festival of the Falling Leaf in Tumut has been cancelled, and Batlow’s CiderFest has been postponed, with hopes to hold the event later in the year.

Festival of the Falling Leaf Chairperson Sam Phillips said that the disappointing decision to cancel wasn’t much of a decision in the first place; it was “really out of [their] control.”

“Last year we had a scaled back version of the Festival because of a lack of volunteer numbers, and then this year…we were put on the backfoot a little bit because of the bushfires,” she said.

“I think after that blew over we were all focused on bringing something positive and great to the town and the region, to give people something to look forward to.”

When the government first announced a 500-person limit for social gatherings, the Falling Leaf Committee began brainstorming ways they could still offer the event, scheduled for May 2, in a smaller way whilst still abiding by guidelines.

When that limit was lessened to 100 people, and social distancing measures were encouraged, it became more and more evident the event wouldn’t be a possibility this year.

Additionally, because the event is a seasonal occasion, postponement was not an option.

“The balance between supporting the local economy through tourism and preventing the virus spread is a fine one, but one that the Committee hopes can be achieved to the benefit of all in our region,” the Committee said in a statement.

The Festival of the Falling Leaf has not been cancelled in the past. A few years ago there was no street parade due to a lack of volunteer numbers, and moving on from that, there was a “resurgence of volunteers the following year.”

When asked whether the cancellation this year might spur another surge in volunteer numbers, Mrs Phillips said, “we are certainly hoping for that.”

“We definitely need more help, we need more volunteers. It can’t run without volunteers in the current format.”

Those who want to get on board as a volunteer can contact Festival of the Falling Leaf through their Facebook page or by emailing festivalofthefallingleaf@gmail.com.

Mrs Phillips commented on the success of other events in the region earlier this year, and the support they received following on from the devastating Dunns Road Fire.

“I’m very glad for Tumbafest that they got their event in,” she said.

“It really felt like everyone had that spirit of pulling together and supporting these events and I think we would have seen that here this year.

“The same as CiderFest, we really feel for those guys. They’re obviously more impacted by the fires than Tumut, they’re a little town.”

Batlow CiderFest has also been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent government regulations, and the event will not be taking place on Saturday, May 16 this year.

Committee President Ray Billing said the decision was “taken out of [their] hands,” similar to what occurred with Falling Leaf.

The Committee is mindful of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and say they are “keen to keep the welfare and safety of [their] volunteers, stakeholders and patrons paramount in [their] event planning.”

The Committee has not ruled out a 2020 CiderFest, however, with everyone keen to hold an event this year. They said they are reviewing the situation regularly with the possibility of re-scheduling later in the year. In the meantime, they are continuing to plan and be ready to hold the event when it is “safe and practical” to do so.

“Our town of Batlow and surrounds [has] been dealt a double whammy with first the devastating bushfires and now the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the Committee said in a statement.

They said that “once this is all over” they will need a great deal of support, and are planning to make this the best CiderFest yet and “a great recovery party for all.”

Mrs Phillips is also looking forward to future events in the region, and commented on just how important they are.

“I do hope that people realise how important these things are for communities and people put their hands up to help and people come out to support them.”