A Knight’s day at St Ives Medieval Faire
By ALEC SMART
The St Ives Medieval Faire is a Middle Ages-themed festival that takes place annually in September at St Ives Showground. The event, which began in 2013, sees the fields converted to an historic European village over a weekend, replicating the most dynamic aspects of the feudal era (fifth to fifteenth centuries) from costumes to catering, crafts to culture, and of course, clashes between knights.
Featuring markets, medieval food, archery demonstrations, birds of prey, a trebuchet catapult, taverns, minstrels and the ever-popular tournaments (including horseback jousting and sword battles involving knights and Vikings), the unique event caters to people of all ages.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, the 2020 event had to be cancelled, but in 2021 this much-loved festival promises to return bigger and better. 2075 spoke to Andrew McKinnon, Faire organiser and fearless jouster, about his involvement and general horsing around.
Prior to the first Faire in 2013, Andrew travelled the world jousting and attending international Medieval events, and returned with the idea of bringing a similar event to his local area.
“I approached Ku-ring-gai Council with the concept and found a sympathetic ear in Precinct Coordinator Patrick Corrigan, who basically said ‘I don’t know exactly what it is but it sounds awesome.’ The Council very generously agreed to fund the inaugural event and we have gone from strength to strength ever since.”
It must have been a challenge to recruit around 500 like-minded people who enjoy Middle Ages culture from many varied backgrounds and disciplines – such as equestrian, knights, falconers, metalworkers, caterers, craftspeople, armourers, archers, etc.
“There have been re-enactment groups, performers, jousters and merchants in this country for many years,” Andrew revealed. “Whilst St Ives is the best event in the country, it is not the only one. The community is a tight knit one and we all have a passion for education, performance and history.”
Andrew assured us all the catapults, archery bows and other battle and siege equipment are derived from authentic weaponry. “All re-enactment groups dedicate their time to researching and building authentic weapons, furniture, clothing and other items on display. Authenticity is paramount at the Faire.”
Andrew is a jouster, which, for the unfamiliar, is a skilled and potentially dangerous sport that involves two horsemen galloping towards each other at high speed whilst wielding lances (long spears) with blunted tips. The object is to strike your opponent with the lance to unhorse them, whilst simultaneously deflecting your opponent’s lance with a shield.
Pope Innocent II banned jousting in 1130 as sinful, but English King, Richard I reintroduced it in 1192. It remained a popular sport with European nobility throughout the Middle Ages, although in France it was discontinued in 1559 when King Henry II died after a jousting wound became infected.
Andrew explained how he became interested in jousting.
“I was trawling the internet about 15 years and came across a photo of some guys jousting in NSW. I had a lightbulb moment and decided I really needed to joust! Never mind that I had never ridden a horse and had no armour!
“I contacted one of the guys in the photo and the rest was history! My wife was very surprised when helmets started to turn up in the post!”
There are several skills to master, beyond the agility to remain seated on a horse.
“Jousting is a very challenging skill to learn,” Andrew confirmed. “A wise man once said, ‘You don’t try jousting. You either do it or you don’t.’ You need to be able to ride sufficiently well with one hand to hold a three-metre lance. You also have to do this whilst wearing 40-50kg of armour, and your only source of vision is through a postage hole.
“The end goal is to hit a target the size of a dinner plate,” he continued. “There are so many small facets to the discipline to master. I tend to think the greatest one is calming your mind and focussing on the job whilst the 600kg partner you are sitting on (the horse) may have ideas of its own!
“Training jousting horses varies and is a continuous process of refinement. The average time a horse with the right temperament will take is around 2 years to be consistent. Not every horse can be a joust horse.”
Are the jousting or knightly tournaments at St Ives Medieval Faire adapted from historic events?
“All of the combat at the Faire is based on an historical precedent. The tournament field, armour, lances and the rules are all based on historical examples. If you parachuted a 15th century European into the grandstands they would absolutely know what was going on down to the smallest detail. All the costuming, for example, is based on historical illustrations and museum pieces.”
Andrew, who also takes part in hand-to-hand combat on foot, including fights with swords, poleaxes, daggers, clubs and archery, hopes that jousting will become a televised sport. Not many people are aware that the 2016 World Jousting Championship was held at St Ives Medieval Faire and was televised on Fox Sports.
What new attractions can we expect at the 2021 Faire?
“We are working with a Pop-Up Museum to introduce a portable display of authentic Dark Ages and Medieval artefacts,” Andrew revealed. “We have an agreement in principle with the Powerhouse Museum to get some of their very cool medieval weapons and armour on display to the general public, so I am very excited to bring this to the 2021 Faire.
“I have been really pleased at the way the people in the St Ives area have taken the Faire as their own,” Andrew said. “Great local support has been invaluable, and it overjoys me to see the event bring people into the area and contribute to the local economy. I am also really grateful to the council for the vision and investment in the event and allowing us the freedom to do what we do best.”
St Ives Medieval Faire
Phone: 02 9424 0354
Oliver enduring punishment in the stocks at St Ives Medieval Faire. Photo: Alec Smart