Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Incorporated started out in February 1950 as the Blackheath Rhododendron Association. Its goals were two-fold.
- To beautify Blackheath with the mass planting of rhododendrons. A Memorial Drive was proposed, with every residence on this route having 4 or 5 rhododendrons planted in their front gardens. Rotary undertook the planting in part of the Memorial Park.
- As “a means of raising funds a Festival or similar function be held during the flowering season” was proposed.
The first Festival was held between October 31st and November 8th, 1953. The official programme for this Festival include the following poem, penned by E. E. Lindsell on 13 Nov 1951:
At Grafton in the spring, you’ll see
The lovely Jacaranda Tree
With flowers so blue and leaves like lace
And avenues so full of grace
Then on to Orange you may go
To see their lovely floral show
Their Cherry Festival so gay
A really marvellous display
But at our Mountain Paradise
Our Rhododendrons will suffice
To give us joy, and food for thought
And other things, which can’t be bought
And so each town has its own charm
A welcome too, so rich and warm
But visit us to see the best
Our gorgeous blooms will do the rest
We’ll welcome you to Blackheath Town
Where Rhododendron blooms are grown
In every colour, shade and hue
So come along, there’s room for you
Most of the money raised by the 1953 festival was used towards the building costs of the Community Centre. Since then the Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Committee has assisted in maintaining the Hall, encouraging tourism, supporting the local fire brigades, the kindergarten, swimming pool, local youth clubs, sporting clubs, local choirs, the R.S.L and the ambulance.
The Blue Mountains Gazette published an article entitled Beginnings of a Blue Mountains rhododendron tradition on 12 Oct 2019, which included this:
The festivities themselves started on Saturday, October 31 with the gala procession of gaily decorated floats, new Australians in their national costumes, children in fancy dress and buskers. Everyone headed to Memorial Park where Mrs R G Menzies, the Prime Minister’s wife, officially opened the festival.
All week, activities entertained locals and visitors alike: square dancing, Dutch and Norwegian national folk dancing, a campfire concert at the Scouts camp, a golf tournament, hikes through Porters Pass, trips to Mount Wilson, a baby show. The Blackheath Musical Society performed, “The Gondoliers” nightly. Wentworth Street hosted a billy cart derby.
Highlight of the week, the Rhododendron Festival and Armistice Ball at the Victory Theatre, saw the Rhododendron Queen ceremonially crowned. Two orchestras entertained the dancers.
The first Rhododendron Queen, the Quota Club’s Judy Tierney, raised £386. Overall, £1025/12/2 was raised for the community hall.
A more detailed history written by Arthur Griffiths, a former President of the Blackheath Rhododendron Festival Committee (BRFC) , for Historic Blackheath, a Production by the Rotary Club of Blackheath, 1975 : 1976 can be read on the History page.
The goals and activities of the BRFC have changed over the years. Until 1968 an eisteddfod was part of the Festival, replaced by an Art Show that is held to this day. Because of the COVID epidemic, 2021 was the first year that a Parade was not held. Blackheathens continue to enjoy the annual Revue, held just after the Festival weekend. A Choir Festival, created by Linda McLaughlin in 2006, is now a biennial event held in August.
The Blackheath Rhododendron Festival goals currently are:
- to be financially viable,
- to support other projects,
- to provide a platform for local talent
- to develop sponsorship opportunities
- to promote the spirit of the town.
There is a Committee in place, the current members being:
- President, Elizabeth Giddey (email@example.com)
- Vice President, Melissa Opie
- Secretary, Bronwen Stinson (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Treasurer, Phillip Nelson (email@example.com)
- 3 elected members (Linda McLaughlin, Bruce McKenzie, one vacant)
Organisers of festivals and events join the Committee for the period of the event.
Everyone is welcome to become a member for just $10 per year.