Medieval times live again as battles of yore are re-fought
Photos on this page by Kaz Drake
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raises two fingers in a plea for mercy.
“People of Rome,” thunders man-god Caesar, “what say you? Live or die”
Thumbs are thrust down and jeering specters watch a limp loser lifted off and dragged away. It’s simulated, but realistic; bloodless, but believable enough to satisfy any blood thirsty Caesar. Nero might have thrown a purse to the winner.
A muddy field away, centuries move briskly. Pikes and dirks make way for muskets. The Queensland Scottish Volunteer Corps, imaginary descendants of a colonial militia founded the century before last, fall out in kilts, grey tunics and pith helmets. Well-drilled devotees of times past, they shoulder antique Martini-Henry rifles, thumbing a bullet into breeches and dropping into a kneel-and-fire stance. Three rapid blasts of blank fire simulate the fire-at-will barrage that stopped savage Cetsuwayo in the Zulu War.
Why all this? Why not the sleeping past lie?
Megan McConnell, a re-enactor from way back, thinks that history can be safely revived.
“We do it first of all for the love of history,” McConnell says. “We want to bring back the values and craft that have been long lost. I suppose we like the romance of it all when it comes right down to it. A lot of re-enactors are terribly incurable romantics.”
Times past come into come into common behavior.
“We’re always terribly polite,” she asserts. “We always encourage politeness and courtesy and chivalry as a top aim.”
The loss of old values and common courtesy irks medievalists like McConnell who might have enjoyed lunch with a family of poisoners who were polite to the last drop of hemlock
“The Borgias must have been a lot of fun,” she speculates.
The battles of Hastings and the Hundred Years War are safely but realistically saved by knights who strike with sprit but care, rattling shields instead of skulls. Mock dead tumble lose from the melee, lying were they fall until squires lug them away.
Maria Howell joined the annual procession six years ago, 21 years after it was started by amateurs and then became a processional run by professionals.
“I actually do re-enactments for a living,” Howell says, relating that she takes troupes of re-enactors to parks and school grounds, teaching the young of the world that was here long before the ancestors of their ancestors.
Far from halberd or musket, people like Private Stalker, CSA, march across time. This Stalker tells of donning the grey and changing his identity from Ed Best, a founding member of the American Civil War Round Table of Queensland. Best’s Confederate credentials are authentic. He’s originally from Atlanta and his native drawl is salted with a dash of Queensland.
Why should Queenslanders care about what happened at Bull Run or Appomattox?
“Actually, Australians like the underdog and they like to buck the system,” Best says. “If you do that here, you’re highly admired.”
And so Camp Stonewall, as this Confederate encampment is known, is full of recruits bucking the tides of time. But there’ll be no mock battles or Springfield rifles cracking here — only a roundtable discussion of what went wrong at Gettysburg or Stone Mountain. Civil War buffs are invited to sit in.
Bonnie Newton will note that in those genteel times, women marched upright into Yankee or Rebel fire. In Pennsylvania, she saw that the middle of the Gettysburg battleground was desecrated by a highway, butting General George Pickett off from his fatal advance.
Australians who join the Confederacy here may find that their uniforms have a familiar feel — old Aussie Army blankets dyed storm-cloud grey.
They’ll look sharp. Flag bearers will carry Rebel colors, the Georgia State flag and the tattered, last-stand banner of the Army of Northern Virginia.
Behind them are soldiers who might be ghosts risen from many battlegrounds — Picts, Goths, Vikings, Teutonic Knights, Crusaders, Saracens, Prince Rupert’s Bastards and any barbarian bastard who wants to march along.
Above and beyond this, traffic moves along, driven by indifferent grownups who have forgotten how to have imaginative and uninhibited fun.
Ladies of the medieval court.
Shield, helmet, iron knitting of chainmail, are hand-done.
Confederate encampment readies itself for tabletop battle.
The South rises again – in Australia.
Boers, beware of the Queensland Scots.
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