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Spirits high during Down Under Fest
Culture of Australia, New Zealand on display
Down WEB 1
Paul Killingly, left, and Daniel Henderson play Australian tunes for visitors Saturday at the inaugural Down Under Fest - photo by Autumn Vetter

Hundreds weathered high temperatures over the Memorial Day holiday weekend to take part in Forsyth County’s first Down Under Fest.

Held at the Polo Fields, the four-day event celebrated all things from Australia and New Zealand, including music, culture, history and food and beverages.

Organizer Tina Keough said about 2,000 advance tickets were sold to the three-day event. Tickets were also available at the gate.

“Some of those are one-day passes,” she said Saturday afternoon, noting that traffic that day hadn’t been too high. “Some are saying it’s really hot so they’ll come later in the evening.”

Jennifer Sheffield, a native of Sydney, came with husband Jack and their daughters from Charleston, S.C., to get a little taste of home.  

“Having a meat pie was first on the agenda this morning,” Sheffield said. “Then I had to have a lamington, an Austalian butter cake rolled in chocolate icing and dipped in coconut.”

Sheffield’s countryman Charles Cook, who now lives in downtown Atlanta, said the event gave him “a feeling of home.”

“The whole atmosphere, everything is great,” he said. “It brings a tear to the eye. They’ve got the basics of our homeland down, so it’s been good, been wonderful.”

While an American, Jack Sheffield was also enjoying the day.

“Our daughters are half Australian, half American and we wanted to come to the festival to let them experience what it’s like to be at an Australian festival,” he said, noting that the whole family enjoyed it.

“The meat pies and all the food they have is very authentic and good, the beer was good, the music was good … it’s been awesome.”  

Cook said he would “definitely be back” if organizers hold the event again.

“I drove up and had a sample of the fare,” he said. “I really appreciate it.”

Jennifer Sheffield said one of the best parts of the event was spending time with others who could easily understand her accent.

“We’ve been married 12 years and still today I can say something and my husband will go, ‘What are you saying, what does that mean?’” she said, noting the accent difference is especially pronounced living in the South.

“We’re similar that we both speak English, well, kind of,” she said. “I couldn’t even say ‘y’all’ when I first came to the South. I can say it now, but it took me a long time.”

Besides food and music, the festivities included several matches of sports such as rugby, cricket and Australian Rules Football.

And on Monday, in honor of Memorial Day, there was a ceremony honoring service people from Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.

Bryan Dargus, a member of the Baton Rouge/Charlotte Australian Football team, said the sport is gaining popularity in this country.

“It’s a growing sport,” he said. “Whoever sees it ends up wanting to play it or watch it. I’ve been playing it four years because I had a nagging Australian friend.”

Cook watched a few games while enjoying an Australian beer and listening to “Waltzing Matilda,” a classic song from home.

“I’ve been [in the U.S.] for 20 years and I miss the place,” he said.

Added Jennifer Sheffield: “There’s nothing better than being amongst Australians.”