Once a year in Katoomba in the beautiful Blue Mountains behind Sydney, the place transforms into something out of a Harry Potter novel. On the Saturday nearest to the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) the locals and thousands of eager visitors dress up in the spirit of the festival and descend upon the small township.

This year was even better than last. It is becoming an annual family tradition for us to attend. The streets were filled with a diverse and crazy mob of dressed up loonies and it made my heart glad. Just to prove that the place is magic on that day, the rain and wind that had been pestering the mountain since early morning, cleared and parted, warming to an unseasonably sunny and mild day, perfect for the massive, musical, vibrant street parade full of music and dancing, drums and horns.

The highlight of the parade for me was the zany and very pink-themed LGBT mob who carried flags bearing the word ORLANDO. As they passed we hooted and applauded and it was heartening to see the crowd so supportive. There were tears of grief and sadness but also tears of joy that we could all come together and cheer as we were reminded of the incredible global support and sympathy extended to that community in the wake of the tragedy.

Many, later that afternoon, descended upon the (allegedly) haunted historic hotel, The Carrington, and it really was incredible to see the bizarre characters lining up at the bar. That scene from Star Wars was happening in front of my eyes.

There were spectacular fireworks displayed over the top of the Carrington at nightfall and it was hard not to believe that you were at a party thrown by Jay Gatsby.

Then came the Fractured Fairy-tale Ball, a sumptuous feast enjoyed beneath a canopy of chandeliers and mock forest in the beautiful dining room. The entertainment provided by the Porcelain Dolls, a dance troupe, was the crowning glory of the entire festival and embodied the zany, sexy, bizarre theme of the day. We were entertained with a circus/burlesque version of an Alice in Wonderland that made the diners feel that they had indeed fallen down the rabbit hole.

One fellow at a table near me was dressed in full body white paint and a furry white g-string with a glow-in-the-dark unicorn horn. Where else would you find someone sitting on a baroque chair at a $150 a head ball, basically in the nude? This is why I love this festival.

I cannot wait for next year. Bring on the winter crazies. I love you all. For the shortest day of the year we sure packed in a lot of fun.


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