Merriwa Festival of the Fleeces canned again but festival's spirit remains alive and well

ANNUAL TRADITION: The red socks will stay in the cupboard and the sheep off the streets in 2021.
ANNUAL TRADITION: The red socks will stay in the cupboard and the sheep off the streets in 2021.

THE June long weekend is upon us and in the Upper Hunter that means one thing - sheep in red socks.

However for the second year in a row, the streets of Merriwa will be eerily quiet, with the town's iconic Festival of the Fleeces canned due to coronavirus and its impacts on events and festivals.

The committee was set to proudly celebrate the event's 30th anniversary in 2020, however that was postponed until 2021.

But now 2021 is off the table also, with the hard decision being made earlier in the year due to the constantly changing nature of the pandemic to pack away the red socks and set their sights on 2022.

However everyone can still get in the festival spirit, with organisers hoping to keep the festivities alive by showcasing Merriwa from the main street, to the storefronts, to the footpaths, and to front yards with visual displays and tributes to the history of the festival.

Normally there are 200 sheep running down the main street, however some residents and businesses are beginning to dress up the town with their creations with sheep popping up in school yards and on residential fences instead.

KEEP IT GOING: Cheryl Stuart's Merriwa home has been adorned with nine sheep to keep the festival spirit alive.

KEEP IT GOING: Cheryl Stuart's Merriwa home has been adorned with nine sheep to keep the festival spirit alive.

There will also be a digital element through social media with a short video showcasing sheep running down the main street and some iconic Merriwa vision posted to council and Merriwa Festival of the Fleeces socials on Saturday around noon.

Committee chair Ron Campbell said they're looking forward to presenting that digital aspect that "still captures the great spirit of the festival of the fleeces".

Upper Hunter shire mayor Maurice Collison added that he recognises the value of this festival to the Merriwa community, not just in financial terms but in bringing people together to celebrate all that is great in the Australian wool industry.

"I can understand residents may be disappointed that we are not yet able to return to 'life as normal' and have the festival as we want it in 2021, but we are still in the midst of a pandemic, and as such I respect the committee's decision," he said.

SHEEP ART: The festival spirit is being kept alive through a series of community initiated arts projects. Photo: Cheryl Stuart

SHEEP ART: The festival spirit is being kept alive through a series of community initiated arts projects. Photo: Cheryl Stuart

"I look forward to attending the Festival of the Fleeces, in all its red sock and sheep glory in 2022."

Even without the festival the message is clear: Merriwa is open for business with plenty to see in town and at Goulburn River National Park, including rockpools, giant silo art, ancient indigenous art and rock formations.