Balingup Medieval Carnivale draws huge crowd of fantasy enthusiasts to small quirky town

It’s a sunny day in the picturesque West Australian town of Balingup and William McConnell looks like he’s just stepped out of the Dark Ages.

He’s wearing his own detailed armour, including a 15kg chain-mail hood and shirt, and carrying a sword and shield that he made himself.

A medical scientist by day, Mr McConnell is attending the annual Balingup Medieval Carnivale with his Perth-based historical re-enactment group, the Grey Company.

“The Dark Ages weren’t actually very dark, they were actually quite interesting and good fun for us to re-enact.

“We do the combat, it’s more theatrical combat so our weapons are blunt, and we try and put on a good show.”

Mr McConnell has been visiting the festival for close to 25 years.

“We do other historical periods that take our interest … but this is our favourite period.”

While he is fascinated by the swordplay and sharing history with the audience, he says there are plenty of other medieval-related hobbies people can take part in.

“If you like making stuff you can do the metal work, you can do the leather work, the woodwork.

“Some people really get into the clothing, the textiles; some people like to do the food and some people like to do the brewing or the music.

“It’s good to be interested in history because it gives you an idea of what came before and how we got to where we are.

“It makes you a little bit more grateful for things like hot water, flushing toilets and antibiotics.”

Fantasy finds new fans thanks to popular TV shows
It’s been a long journey for Mr McConnell, who made his first sword when he was 15.

“I was caught very early on and it’s been interesting to see how it’s changed over the last 30 or 40 years.

“It’s almost mainstream now with things like the Vikings TV series and Game Of Thrones.

“You don’t have to be a little bit embarrassed about the fact you’re dressing up.”

With around 5,000 adults attending the carnivale and another few thousand children in tow, there were plenty of punters who weren’t shy about donning a costume.

Carnivale president Fran Wilshusen said she was thrilled with the turnout, especially given the difficulties of the past few years during the pandemic.

“I was hopeful that we would have 2,500; if we got to that number I was going to be really happy,” she said.

“It was absolutely perfect weather, there was a couple of times where there was a little bit of rain and that was just enough to actually kind of add to the atmosphere.”

A small town with a medieval heart
Situated around 240 kilometres south of Perth and with a population of around 550 people, the Balingup community works very hard to ensure the annual event goes off without a hitch.

“We make an effort to include all the local businesses in the event, everyone gets a bite of the pie and then the profit at the end goes back into the community to help people wanting to run other smaller events or grants to the school,” Ms Wilshusen said.

Balingup is known around the state for being a quirky, enchanting town where things out of the ordinary are celebrated and embraced.

After a long and successful day in the arena, Mr McConnell and his fellow knights will live to fight another day and return to the festival again next year.

“It’s theatre, it’s a bit of escapism and it’s good fun.

“When you’re on stage, you’re putting on a show, the audience is cheering and it actually can be quite therapeutic to get out there because sometimes the working week can grind you down.”