There were sheafs tossed, kilts worn, bagpipes blown, a dancer on a drum and the small matter of a 120m footrace to mark yesterday’s 152nd staging of Australia’s longest running sporting event – the Maryborough Highland Gathering.
A big crowd was drawn to Princes Park for the annual New Year’s Day event as the mercury mercifully only reached 30 degrees, much cooler than the scorching temperatures 12 months earlier.
The 2013 edition of the Highland Gathering was a day of contrasts.
There was the brute strength on show at the Highland Heavy Games, which were dominated by London Olympic discus thrower Scott Martin.
The Wodonga native took out the caber tossing with a near perfect toss, as well as the 22lb granite stone Braemer style, 26lb shot put and both 28lb and 56lb weight-for-distance throwing events.
Former Edinburghian-turned-Melburnian James Graeme struck a blow for the Scottish in their own games, though, drawing perhaps the biggest cheer of the day for his win in the Atlas Five Stones of Strength.
Nearby the heavy-lifters, the lithe athletes raced on foot, displaying power of a different kind.
Ballarat’s Joel Bee was the star of the show, claiming his first win in the prestigious Maryborough Gift.
Over the hill, behind the stalls spruiking traditional Scottish ancestry tales, flags and maps, the Highland Dancers performed with finesse and style in front of crowds that huddled close under the little shade that could be found.
There was no escape from the blazing sun for the sheaf tossers, who spent hours in the middle of Princes Park using a pitchfork to hurl a bag of oats and hay over a pole vault-style bar.
World champion Sheridan Holland, from Murray Bridge in South Australia, proved too good for his opposition – as he had in all but one of his 17 previous visits to the Maryborough Gathering – winning with a 14.5m toss.
Brass bands from Maryborough, St Arnaud, Castlemaine, Daylesford and Bendigo kept the crowd entertained when the on-field action took a break.
The spectacle is more than enough to keep many punters coming back, but few – if any – would have seen more Highland Gatherings than life member Harold Hubble.
At 82, Maryborough’s Hubble has attended all but one Gathering in his lifetime – with his first being in 1930 when he was just three weeks old, so his family tells him.
“1934 was the first I can remember... having a go on the merry-go-around,” Hubble said.
“I’ve been to every one since about 25 years ago, when the family decided to go to the beach and we went to Torquay.
“The local radio station 3CV – as it was known back then – was broadcasting the gift, so I tuned in.
“I never missed one before and I haven’t missed one since. I reckon as a family day it’s hard to get a better day.”
Maryborough Highland Society president Bruce Dellavedova said the event was a success, with spectators returning in big numbers after a low year in 2012.
“We’re very happy with the crowd, it’s twice as good as last year. It’s warm again but nowhere near what it was last year,” he said.
“Everyone gets behind it, it’s great.”