The annual Autumn Festival is a celebration not only of the changing season and wonderful autumn display for which Armidale is nationally known, but it also celebrates the diverse community and outstanding quality of life that flourishes in the region.
The event’s origins, 25 years ago, stemmed from a desire to celebrate 150 years of horse racing in the region by local businessman John Cannon. John came to Armidale to manage Cannon Ford in August 1967. John won the best commercial unit in the 1967 New England Trade Fair procession on 28 October 1967. He also won the best non-commercial, “crazy car”, which was a mix of vintage, modern and futuristic design.
John was very involved with the Armidale Jockey Club and in 1991 when planning to celebrate 150 years of racing to take place in 1992, John started to plan for an Autumn Festival to be part of the racing program.
The first Armidale Autumn Festival was announced in February 1992 in the New England Racing Magazine to take place as a four day event, concluding at the Armidale Cup event at the racecourse on 21 March 1992. The event included Jazz performances in various venues, sporting events, horseracing and a parade. Businesses were encouraged to stay open, and music was provided in the Mall.
The 1993 Autumn Festival was much bigger, and Council staff participated in the 1993 parade by entering a float depicting Council’s assets and services. John Cannon was awarded Citizen of the Year in 1993.
Although businesses supported the event, the committee struggled with finance, and in September 1997 John Cannon announced that owing to business and family commitments he was stepping down as Chairman. John was a hands-on Chairman and spent hundreds of hours planning the event and made each year different by engaging different bands and entertainment. Over the years the Autumn Festival parades had featured the Marching Koala Band, NSW Fire Brigade Brass Band, Salvation Army Band, Newcastle RSL Band, Army Band, Royal Air Force Band, Pearly King, stilt walkers, Super Herbert, clowns, and pipe and brass bands from Armidale and the district.
In 2007 Peter Ducat, the Mayor of Armidale, invited John Cannon to be the Patron of the Armidale Autumn Festival Committee.
Highlights during John’s time of managing the Autumn Festival included introducing entertainment in the Curtis Park with a mini circus and rides, Troy Cassar-Daley performing at the inaugural festival the marching Koala Band, Houdini, organising 26 pipe bands for one event and helicopter rides.
Following John’s resignation, the Armidale and District Chamber of Commerce took on the responsibility of organiser and facilitator of the Autumn Festival.
Over the years Armidale City Council and Dumaresq Shire Council had been supportive of the event and later Armidale Dumaresq Council and now Armidale Regional Council continue to support the event for the region to enjoy and celebrate our high country living.