Back in 1986, the first Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival was organised, and thirty-three years on, the festival is still going strong! The aim of the festival has always been to promote Guyra’s industry and lifestyle.
These days, the festival draws tens of thousands of visitors, who come to enjoy the festivities, sample the delicious food and marvel at the statue of the Big Lamb that Guyra is famous for.
This year’s festival will be held from 16 – 27 January at Rotary Park, and we thought it’d be a great opportunity to have a chat with one of the festival founders, Frank Presnell. Frank shares his unique perspective …
Hi Frank. What’s your background in Guyra?
I’ve lived in Guyra for 73 years. I was born in Gunnedah, but lived down around Coonabarabran. I moved to Guyra when I was 25. My wife, Mavis Saunders, was a Guyra girl, and I met her while I was in Coonabarabran.We moved to Guyra in 1945 – at the time, I had two draft horses, a saddle horse and 100 quid!
How did the idea come about to start the Lamb and Potato Festival?
I’ve been farming my whole life – I grew potatoes and a lot of peas.
The late Royce Newbury and I were talking about starting a local festival – a lot of people talked about it actually, but no one seemed really interested in getting one going. Then I heard a whisper that Glen Innes may have been going to start up a festival, and I thought, we’d have to beat them! I suggested Royce come and have dinner with us one night to discuss the idea of a festival – and he did. So really, the Lamb and Potato Festival was born in my dining room!
We knew we’d have to form a committee, and we knew we really wanted to promote both lamb and potatoes. There was a fairly big potato industry in Guyra in those days – bigger than it is now. So, the committee was formed, and it consisted of me, my wife Mavis, Royce Newbury, Robert Gordon, Cecil Lockyer, Dorothy Lockyer, Jim Williamson, Gloria George, and Ron Leven. That was 33 years ago!
How much do you feel the festival has changed over the years?
When we first started, it was a bit of a sketchy turnout (laughs). I had an old barbecue, which we used to cook on, and we’d put an old tent up over it. We had two caravans put together – one from Rotary and one from Lions and we’d put some old flooring boards down in between. We’d get very wet when it rained!
We’d have people who travelled round to all the markets come and set up, one stall under each tree – but these days there are far too many stalls to do that.
I used to go around to all the farmers – they were very good to us – and each one I asked would supply a lamb. The lambs had to be taken to Tamworth to be slaughtered – and thank you to Johnny Jackson, who was at the abattoir then. The abattoir has always killed the lambs free of charge for us, and still do so today.
Not many people came to the festival in its first year, but people got to know there it was … and today it’s different altogether. I never in my dreams thought it would grow like it has!
Tell us a bit about the statue of the Big Lamb at Guyra …
It took us about three years to be able to cough up the money for the statue. Cliff Axelsen – who was from Sydney at the time – made us a model of the lamb and brought it up. I thought it was a terrible looking thing (laughs) and I told him lambs didn’t look like that! I told him I’d get him a lamb from the abattoir for a model … He made us another model, and it was perfect.
At one stage, there was talk about building the statue out of stone, but that would have cost too much money. So, it was built from concrete, and I think it looks really good!
The lamb’s been there beside the road for 30 years now.
What are some of your memories from attending the festival?
I actually lost my finger at the festival one year … ’92 or ’93, I think it was. I was slicing meat on the slicer and a bit of meat got caught. I went to flick the piece of meat out – and it wasn’t the cutter that got me, it was the belt!
And it was in ’91 during the time the festival was on that I got bitten by a Funnel-web Spider. I’d gotten up early; my son and daughter-in-law were staying with me at the time. The pump was playing up, so I put on my old boots to head out … There was something in my blasted boot though! I tipped it out, banged it on the head with my boot, and went on my way down to the pump … But, the pain! I’ve never felt pain so bad in my whole life! The spider bit me on my big toe.
My son and daughter-in-law took me and the spider into town, and the doctor told me it was a Funnel-web. I was taken straight to Armidale hospital. I was out of it for a bit and missed a little bit of the festival, but you wouldn’t believe it – my neighbour also got bitten at the same time as me!
Wow! And, you’re you still a regular festival goer?
Yep, I go every year. I organise the lambs every year … but these days we buy our lambs. I’ve bought some from the sale yards, and my son, John, is a prime lamb breeder, so he’s been supplying lambs too. Some years we kill up to 70 or 80 lambs.
Some highlights of the 2019 Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival:
- Show and Shine
- Market stalls
- Lamb and potato cuisine
- Antique machinery display
- Live music daily
- Nostalgic rail trike rides
- Military vehicle rally
- Multiple Golden Guitar winner and horseman extraordinaire Tom Curtain will be performing his Katherine Outback Experience show of real horse training and working dog demonstrations, followed by a live music performance at the Guyra Lamb & Potato Festival on Friday 18th January – free event: a special thank you to CentaCare, who sponsored Tom Curtain and the Katherine Outback Experience Team to perform at the 2019 Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival.
Tickets for Tom Curtain available through Eventbrite.
Visit: www.facebook.com/events/304505263720650/ for more details.
For more info about the Guyra Lamb and Potato Festival, visit www.guyralambpotatofestival.com or view the Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GuyraLambAndPotatoFestival/
Interview: Jo Robinson.