In the Southern Highlands of New South Wales lies the sleepy little town of Bundanoon. Once per year this country hamlet explodes and transforms into the fabled Brigadoon; Out of the mist from whence it came.
Upwards of 20,000 people descend upon the Bundanoon is Brigadoon Gathering, making this the largest Highland Gathering in the southern hemisphere.
The inaugural event was on 21st October 1978. It then quickly moved for its second outing to 28th April 1979, adopting the tag from then on of "Always in April".
The Early Years
The story of the Bundanoon Stones of Manhood, begins in the early 1990's when Australian Highland Games legend, strongman and Guinness world record holder, David Huxley was enlisted to perform at the Gathering.
In addition to various demonstrations of strength and Caber tossing, he introduced stone lifting demonstrations in 1993 along with Edwin Sergeant, a professional rower and stonelifter. The following year saw the addition of World's Strongest Man competitor and world Highland champ Joe Quigley to the lineup and the athletes demonstrated fine skills in throwing and lifting to an appreciative crowd
The stones used in the contest were a beautiful set of Sandstone McGlashen stones, made and quarried locally at the Bundanoon sandstone quarries. This set of stones became Known as the Bundanoon Stones of Manhood.
Note: The McGlashen stones are named after the Scotsman who created the first ever set of round carved lifting stones. They were used in early strongman competitions. There were two sets made. One set remains in Markinch in Fife, Scotland. The name "Atlas Stones" is now more commonly used. Most likely due to marketing reasons and the global name recognition of Charles Atlas and also Atlas from Greek mythology.
1995 saw the return to Bundanoon of David Huxley and his promotions group, the Tartan Warriors. The Tartan Warriors had been formed by Harry Mitchell and David Huxley the previous year, following a tour of the Scottish circuit. This saw for the first time the stones being performed at Brigadoon in a competitive format between an invitation only line-up of international strongman stars.
The line up for 1995 included World's Strongest Man, Gary Taylor of Wales, South Africa's strongest Man, Wayne Price, Joe Quigley of Australia, David Huxley, Andy Andersson of Scotland and Colin Cox from New Zealand.
The Strongman Superstars were in Australia for the Weet-Bix sponsored World Series Strongman challenge being held at the Sydney Royal Easter show. This was an event that would endure, after an initial commitment of three years from the title sponsor, they instead stayed on for six years, appearing most notably on the Wide World of Sports telecast.
"Great Days Indeed! The World Series strongman challenge was being held at the Royal Easter show in Sydney and the competitors would make their way to Brigadoon on the Saturday, compete (the world's best, mind you) and bring that little amphitheatre to the biggest crowd roar you have ever heard! Unbelievable!!! Only we could do that Luke my boy!"- Harry Mitchell
The World's Best Tackle The Bundanoon Stones
Other Strongman stars would come to Australia in those early years, many of whom would compete at Bundanoon. These included World's strongest man winners Magnus Ver Magnusson, Magnus Samuelsson, Svend Karlsen, Jamie Reeves and also World's strongest man competitors Mark Phillipi, Torfi Olafsson, Grant Edwards and Derek Boyer.
In the late 1990's founding member of the Tartan Warriors, Harry Mitchell, made his first emceeing appearance at Brigadoon. After several years of clashing commitments, Harry was finally free to lend his skill and professionalism with a microphone to the event. To this day, Brigadoon would not be the same without Harry's excited tones inspiring the crowd and athletes to cheer louder and perform harder.
Below: 1998 World Series Strongman at the Sydney Royal Easter Show. The Stones used are the Bundanoon stones of manhood.
Moving forward into the 2000's, new competitors were welcomed into the Tartan Warriors fold. Names like Grant Edwards, Mike Sidonio, Derek Boyer, Craig Reid became commonplace at Bundanoon and later Aaron Monks (2009 champ), Stephen Diffy, Joe Heffernan, Luke Reynolds, Morgan Westmoreland, Lance Holland-Keen, Steve Tye (2012 champ), Kiwis Mick Cottrell and Reuben DeJong and current three time champion, Jordan Steffens would take their place in the Bundanoon history books.
During the 2000's, a particularly fierce rivalry developed between locals Derek Boyer and Craig Reid, with the two of them holding the fastest times ever recorded on the current 'Heavy' set of stones.
By 2010 Both Derek Boyer and Craig Reid held four championships each. David felt it only right to draw these two champions together one last time for a reckoning of sorts. Joining them that year were 2009 champ Aaron Monks and Luke Reynolds.
After a slight fumble early in his run, Craig turned in a quick five stones, but the window he left was too big. Derek capitalised on Craig's earlier mistake and was just too fast on that day, claiming his 5th and record setting title.
A disappointed Craig would wait another twelve months before securing his own 5th title in what would be his final Brigadoon appearance.
At the time of publishing the record time for loading the five stones is held by Derek Boyer at 19.8 seconds.
Above: Five times Brigadoon Champion, Craig Reid loads the 5th and final stone in 2010 whilst Brigadoon stalwart, Alaistair Saunders, keeps a close eye on the stopwatch.
The Vital Statistics
The format used at Bundanoon is of five McGlashens stones of ascending weight placed at five metre intervals. The stones are to be loaded onto barrels. The athlete who loads the most stones in the fastest time is declared the Brigadoon Champion.
Have Stones. Will travel.
The set of stones used in the Bundanoon is Brigadoon contest also make appearances at a number of other gatherings around the country. Including, Berry Celtic festival, Aberdeen Highland Gathering, Canberra Highland Gathering and more recently at the Hawkesbury show.
This particular competition set are not the only Bundanoon sandstone McGlashen stones in existence as David had several made. The competition set of stones used at the Hororata Highland games each year just outside Christchurch, New Zealand are another of the Bundanoon stone sets. The Hororata Bundanoon stones were even transported to Queenstown, New Zealand in early 2015 for use in the New Zealand Rural Games heavy events contest.
Another of the Bundanoon stones lives on the gold coast and was included with a series of concrete atlas stones used at the Australia's strongest man contest in 2010. This particular stone is a close match to the current 165kg Brigadoon stone, however weighs slightly less at 155kg.
Above: The man himself, David Huxley on the caber toss. The piper pictured has attended every single Brigadoon from 1978, right up to the present day.
The stones at Bundanoon have been manhandled by the best strongmen and Highland Heavies from across the world. Sometimes tacky is used and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it's 40 degrees centigrade and other times it's raining. Brigadoon goes ahead regardless of weather conditions every year with the Tartan Warriors and the Bundanoon Stones of Manhood featuring prominently. There really is something special about lifting these stone in this place. Sometimes they fly. Other times you would swear they're bolted to the ground. But such are the trials of stonelifters.
Regardless, lifting 5 stones, from grass, in front of 20,000 spectators is a test that some of world's best stone lifters have enjoyed and shall continue to enjoy in the years to come.