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Tis a second winter of discontent: Reflections on another Abbey Medieval Festival lockdown

I am at home, on a surreal day, almost beyond our imagining last week. Once again, an almost invisible enemy – the dreaded covid plague – has struck down our festival. And yet outside, there is a blue sky, and the hint of an early springtime in the birdsong and flowers of the forest. This must be what happens in wartime, when for a brief moment above the crash of guns, a robin hops from the shadows onto a flowering may bush and life is renewed amid death and loss.

For the last few days, a dedicated group of volunteers and staff worked long hours to create the amazing atmosphere that transfers a peaceful bushland setting into a medieval world ‒ building a castle, miles of fencing, great banners in the woodland ‒ all the infrastructure that is largely unseen yet is the very backbone of a successful festival. Our hundreds of volunteers come from far and wide to generously and enthusiastically give of their time and energy to make this year a success after the disappointment of last year’s cancellation. The contractors had set up

the generators for the food stalls, the lighting towers for night-time, the skips and hundreds of bins to keep the site tidy and clean. The great trebuchets were under construction, pavilions and tents creating a sea of colour; the jousters on their mighty steeds preparing for the tournament. Our faithful stallholders coming from far and wide to sell their wares…. a purposeful stream of knights and ladies and peasants streaming in to set up Viking, Crusader, High Middle Ages and Ottoman encampments.

Then on Tuesday came 15 minutes of suspense and stress while the Board of the Abbey Museum and our key managers and coordinators listened to the Premier declare a lockdown for the next three days.

We completely understand the reasons for this decision – the safety of Queensland’s people is at stake. Although the lockdown would have finished 6 hours before the start of the festival, this interval would not have given us time to set up the knightly encampments, bring in performers and musicians, or give our patrons – the thousands of dedicated fans who avidly support the Medieval Festival each year – the safety factor than is crucial in keeping this pestilence at bay. We gambled on the seeming outcome of the covid plague being defeated on our island continent and have paid the price of trying to bring history alive in 2021.

The festival is too complicated and costly to simply postpone; it costs nearly half a million gold pieces to hold the festival these days; insurance, infrastructure, wages. Although our contractors have been generous in their costs of installation, there are massive expenses the Museum has to try and find a way of repayment. So, we stand uncertain as to the future of not only the festival, but the Museum as well. How do we keep our talented and brilliant staff when the festival pays their wages? These are the people who rely on the festival each year and who, in turn, we rely on holding a successful event.

Historical movies often end with the defeat of the bad guys; winter giving way to a bright spring. We have passion and commitment in spades; we have thousands of fans who find pleasure and happiness in coming to Abbey. We were so close to success – our tickets sales were going through the roof, everything was set up poised for the weekend, our reenactors excited to be back in costume again.

And for a second time, plague strikes us down.

Lord Michael of Abbeystowe