The Southern Downs will play host to not one, but three national championships during CelticFest Warwick 2023, on the September long weekend (Sep 30-Oct 1). The Australian Highland Games Championships will be held at the main ticketed event at the Warwick Showgrounds. Meanwhile, as part of the CelticFest Fringe (separately organised and ticketed events, where applicable), SCOTS PGC College will host the inaugural Australian Juvenile Pipe Band Championships on Saturday 30 September, alongside the Australian Solo Piping and Drumming Championships on Friday 29 September.
Feats of strength
A field of 20 professional strongmen will battle it out for the Australian Highland Games Championships open men’s title at the Warwick Showgrounds on the afternoon of Saturday 29 September and all-day Sunday 1 October. The strongman crowned Australia’s national highland games champion will represent Australia at the World Amateur Highland Games Championships in Norway in March 2024. Previously the Australian Highland Games Championships had been held at The Gathering in Ipswich, but with that event taking a break for 2023, the search was on for another venue.
Championship organizer, Highland Muscle’s Rob Mitchell, said that the decision to hold the event during CelticFest was due to the timing of the event, and the ability for CelticFest to hold a ‘decent crowd’. The latter is based on the outstanding reception for the highland games heavy events during CelticFest 2022 when the Portley Grandstand and surrounding area were packed with onlookers, reveling in the feats of strength from strongmen and women in events such as putting the stone, hammer throw, weight for height, and everyone’s favourite, the caber toss.
By CelticFest, athletes will have competed in four qualifying events: The Hayland Gathering, Melbourne Highland Games and Celtic Festival, NSW Central Coast Highland Challenge, and the Australian Celtic Festival in Glen Innes. Each competitor placing top 3 in their division in these events automatically qualifies for the Australian Highland Games Championships.
There will be four divisions: Open Men’s, Open Women’s, Masters’ Men’s, and Men’s under 90kg. Mitchell said all current champions will compete in Warwick – Terry Sparks (Open Men’s), Fran Fitzpatrick (Open Women’s), Stephen Henry (Master’s Men’s), and Morgan Westmoreland (Men’s Under 90kg) – with around 25 athletes in total.
Other athletes to watch out for are Sian Cooper, Kalina Vikilani, and last year’s Open Men’s winner at CelticFest, Macauley Tinker. Mitchell himself is aiming for the Men’s Master’s crown after coming back from injury late last year.
Australian Juvenile Pipe Band Championships
The SCOTS PGC-hosted inaugural Australian Juvenile Pipe Band Championships will see some 15 school-based bands travel from around Australia to participate, including from as far afield as Perth. Confirmed participants include Presbyterian Ladies College Perth, Scotch College Melbourne and The Scots School Albury Pipe Band, which will join SCOTS PGC Pipes and Drums and Brisbane Boys College, among others.
SCOTS PGC is also planning recitals and workshops over the weekend with another expected highlight being the participation of Alisdair McLaren. McLaren is the current Pipe Major of the Pipes and Drums of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the West Australia Police Pipe Band; he has also performed as the REMT’S Lone Piper, as well as for King Charles and the late Queen Elizabeth. In addition, SCOTS PGC College will host the Australian Solo Piping and Drumming Championships on Friday 29 September, showcasing some of the country’s best pipers and drummers.
Excitingly, senior and junior pipe band players will join the Warwick Thistle Pipe Band as it celebrates its centenary year in a stirring spectacle of a street parade on the morning of Saturday 30 September. Coincidentally, SCOTS PGC will also celebrate 75 years of their kilted pipe band and is welcoming past students to march in this special event. The street parade is expected to attract around 300 performers. Meanwhile, tickets are now available for CelticFest, to be held at the Warwick Showgrounds on the evening of Saturday 30 September and all-day Sunday 1 October.
For more information about CelticFest and to purchase CelticFest tickets, go to www.celticfestqld.com.au or search for CelticFest Warwick on Eventbrite. Further details about CelticFest Fringe will also be available on the CelticFest website, Facebook page and Instagram account.
Photos Jessica Mead Photography.