By LIAM DURKIN
THORPY is the place to be at the moment.
Actually, it’s always been the place to be.
With the football team currently in the midst of a five-game winning streak, there was even more positivity coming out of the tiny spud-growing hamlet recently.
The humble spud was the premise of the Thorpdale Potato Festival, and festival organisers gathered at the Thorpdale Public Hall to formally toast a job well done from the event held last March.
More importantly, with the pennies counted and the books closed, organisers were able to physically see the fruits of their labour, and make distributions to community groups in Thorpdale and district.
The money raised from the festival will help a plethora of groups in the small town stay afloat, as well as assist in covering the cost of various projects.
Groups meeting a certain criteria were able to apply for funding to the Thorpdale Potato Festival Committee Inc.
More than $75,000 was awarded to 16 community groups.
Group leaders were formally acknowledged at the hall on Saturday, May 20, walking up to accept their recognition from potato festival committee vice-president and MC James Durkin, and Baw Baw Shire deputy mayor Michael Leaney.
While Mr Durkin’s mother would have been proud, the look of pride was even greater on the faces of community group leaders, who took time to explain what the money would mean for their organisation.
Of note was $18,000 awarded to Thorpdale Recreation Reserve for a refurbishment to the pavilion verandah, and $10,000 to Thorpdale Primary School for a new bike track.
Others to receive a helping hand was Thorpdale Public Hall ($10,000 for split systems), Thorpdale CFA ($6000 for a new quick fill pump and drainage works around the station), and Narracan Hall ($5000 for an AV system).
Upon announcing Thorpdale Cricket Club would receive $2000 for training equipment, Mr Durkin couldn’t help but declare the cricket club was the “best community group in town.”
Mr Durkin formed part of the new committee, that took it upon themselves to ensure Thorpdale didn’t lose its marquee event.
The potato festival was on the brink of extinction just 12 months ago, when there was no one in line to replace the retiring committee.
With the future in doubt, a group of young and enthusiastic locals stepped up to the plate, and got to work delivering the popular bi-annual event.
Their work looks set to ensure the resurrected potato festival (the festival came back in 2015 after a long hiatus) does not suffer the same fate as a previous era.
The sight of a youthful committee, as well as groups from Thorpdale playgroup, kindergarten and Auskick at the distribution night, would have surely pleased Thorpdale locals, more so for the fact they can see a generation that will hopefully grow up in the town.
Those familiar with Thorpdale demographics will attest to the generational gap that has existed in the last 10 years.
With most farmers in the area now into their 60s, and their children moving away for work and study, Thorpdale had, unfortunately, threatened to become a ghost town not that long ago.
However, events such as the potato festival have helped showcase Thorpdale to a greater audience, and helped bring people back to the area.
It is said you can pay good money to travel overseas and not see views anywhere near as good as those in Thorpdale.
Potato festival committee president, Carly Geisler said the festival was full of positivity.
“The aim was to raise money for the community, and we’ve been able to do that,” she said.
“Being such a small community, so many people are intertwined in so many different community groups. They don’t get this opportunity to raise funds because everyone is in everything, so the festival is the best opportunity for them to get as much money into the community in one day.”
This year’s festival saw a record crowd, a fair turnaround given the situation of 12 months ago.
“We did this in a really short amount of time, about eight months, usually we take about 18 months,” Ms Geisler said.
“This time last year we had no committee on board at all. We got to the last meeting where if we didn’t get a committee together it (the festival) was going to dissolve.
“All of us were new bar one person, a lot of us had never been part of the festival before so it was all completely new.
“There was definitely challenges along the way, things we didn’t expect, the amount of people coming into Thorpy at the one time, we’ve got better ways to manage that for next time.
“We had about 12,000 people through the gates, it was our biggest one ever.”
Among the more popular attractions at the festival was ‘hessians on the field’, potato cooking demonstrations and potato-themed activities such as picking and races.
The next Thorpdale Potato Festival is slated for 2025.
It is understood the committee is looking to work-in with organisers from the Mirboo North Italian Festa, on a rotation basis year-to-year.