Would you believe I’m feeling somewhat melancholy after my long weekend in the rural town of Queensland at Chinchilla’s Melon Festival?
There wasn’t a free motel room to be found for miles (or possibly even in Miles*) as more than 15,000 people converged on Chinchilla last weekend, effectively tripling its population, for the celebration of all things melon.
Chinchilla produces one-quarter of Australia’s melons—including watermelon, rockmelon and honeydew melon—so it’s no surprise the town turns red and green for the festival.
The first Melon Festival was organised by local producers and businessman back in 1994 to lift the town’s spirits after the severe drought of the early 1990s and they couldn’t have predicted that within two decades it would attract around 15,000 people for the main weekend’s mix of events.
Having waited patiently for two years to cross the festival off my bucket list, I rallied mum to join me for the four-hour, 300 kilometre road trip—with the promise of some watermelon paraphernalia and my awesome singing to make the drive go quicker.
Although the Melon Festival goes for a week, the weekend is the main attraction and the activities kicked off with the Big Melon Weigh In on Friday afternoon. As the name suggests, it’s all about who has the biggest melons. (So many possible jokes.)
The Davies family hold the record for the biggest melon after their 2007 offering tipped the scales at a whopping 87.5kg … you could drink watermelon daiquiris all year and still have melon left over for a salad when it was time to sober up.
This year’s champion weighed in at 63.5kg, a far cry from the record, but when you consider that is pretty much the same weight as me, it’s super impressive.
Although the 2011 and 2013 festivals were almost rained-out due to floodwaters, this year the weather gods must have been smiling on the area because there wasn’t a rain drop in sight with blue skies with temperatures in the high 30s.
The heat gave us the perfect excuse to crack open a ginger beer before 10am while waiting for Saturday’s much-anticipated parade to start.
During full production, a farm of seven can pick anywhere from 50 to 60 tonnes of melon per day.
After the parade, we checked out the markets (picking up a melon t-shirt and hat) before heading to the school oval for the much-anticipated Melon Games which includes the Melon Ski where participants slide their feet into a pair of seeded watermelons, slap on a helmet (a real one, not one made of watermelon) and then attempt to ski their way down a soapy, slippery, watermelon covered tarpaulin while being pulled by two members of the local footy club.
While most finished on their bums or stomachs, a few guys manage to make it down while still on their melons … much to the delight and loud cheers of the watching crowd.
Although I’d set my sights on competing in both the Melon Skiing and the Melon Ironwoman, the closest I got to slipping and sliding through mountains of melon was when I ate almost a quarter of one that was so fresh the juice ran down not just my chin, but also my arms and legs.
The line to take part in the games was about 100m long and multiple people wide, and with my skin slowly turning a deeper shade of red than the melon we were there to celebrate, I decided my quest to be named Queen of the Melon Ski would need to wait until another year and went to chill out in the shade with a free slice of melon.
I was a little surprised there weren’t more melonious (it’s a new word that I just invented) items available including watermelon juice or watermelon cocktails (which would have gone down a treat given the scorching temperature) or even a watermelon and feta salad, Chinchilla did serve up two of the best old-school steak burgers I’ve had since my days cheering on my brother at Nudgee rugby games each Saturday, with money going to the school’s P&C and the local Lions Club.
*For those not from around these parts, Miles is the town next to Chinchilla. It’s just a short 46 kilometres (or 28 miles) away.