It’s not often you see turkeys wondering along a main street. Usually, they’re basted and breast up in a roasting tin. Yet, here in Forrest they wander around as if they’re part of the community. Maybe the weekend surge of visitors has brought out their social side.
We’re headed towards the Public Hall in the township, where the annual Otway Soup Festival is being held. There aren’t many soup festivals in the world, but here they seem to take their soup making skills quite seriously. Well, they must – the festival is in its 9th year and is as popular as ever.
The soup isn’t the only draw. It’s a reason for this little community in the south west of Victoria to get together and share their local and home-made produce. Sweet sticky jams, fruity chutneys, hand-made soaps and jewellery are for sale by their talented owners; all from the surrounding area.
The local firemen have produced a fire engine for children to clamber over and take turns pushing the siren button. While a ukulele orchestra in the open-sided truck-come-stage strum and strain to be heard over the noise.
A table designed entirely to keep the kids happy offers terracotta tiles and fish alongside papier maché houses and masks to be decorated. All colours of paint, sequins and glitter are sprinkled around the table and makeshift rug, while happy children intent on making their masterpieces shut out whirring siren noises and strained voices to create their very own souvenir of the day.
Burly farmers and festival crew in neon vests wait in line for their tea and scones with cream and jam, nattering with the ladies from the Lion’s Club who’ve helped organise the day. We buy fried potato spirals on a stick – a Korean creation that would be a big winner in Ireland. There’s a huge untapped market there for this tasty treat. I go back for more. Twice.
Nearing dusk, the sun slides behind the tall stripy gum trees and we retreat to the heat of the brewery only a few steps further along the main street. OK, so there’s another reason why people visit Forrest – Forrest Brewing Company. Having a boutique brewery in a township often helps retain those thinking of leaving. At least outside festival times you can be sure to get a pint without ever having to queue.
The brewery is busy today with energetic crowds who flocked to the area to partake in ‘Run Forrest’ – a 10K and 21K run – and weekend cyclists keen to experience the famed Forrest bike trails. Unashamedly, they order at the bar in full lycra gear, replete with padded front and back bottoms. Ordering beside them is a gang of bikies on their weekend jaunt out of Melbourne, sporting Sailor Johnny tats and black leathers. It’s a surreal sight.
Outside, as I keep the kiddies entertained walking along the tree trunk seating and picking minuscule mushrooms from the bark, the turkey trio from earlier waddle past. Glancing up, the biggest turkey – obviously in command – gives a slight nod of the head in my direction, likes he’s tipping a peaked cap and mumbling “Evening. Lovely night for it.”
I sit on the cold damp tree, watching my breath turn white as it hits the chilly Otway air, no longer heated by the sun’s rays. In turn, the cyclists and bikies leave. The cockatoos silence their squawks and darkness creeps slowly in.
Rubbing my arms to ward off the chill, I gather the girls and usher them back into the warmth of the brewery; back into a lively, homely place.
I can see why people move here, what makes a residential population of 170 tick.
While it may feel it’s in the sticks, and is a few hours from Melbourne, Forrest has a real sense of community; a spirit that is generated among people who because of their remoteness need to stick together; look out for each other, share stories over a beer, and compare soup recipes.
For more information on Forrest, visit ForrestVictoria.com