An event to celebrate the family-friendly atmosphere and natural assets of the Illawarra is gearing up for its seventh year.
Initiated to showcase the vast range of low-cost and free activities available for families in the area, KidsFest Shellharbour was launched on Thursday at Harrison Park.
Tessa Parsons has been involved in KidsFest since its inception, and said it was the longest-running free children’s festival in Australia.
When she and her husband built a house in the new subdivision then known as “Blackbutt” in the 1970s, she could never have dreamed how much the area would grow in the years to come.
Even then, it was a great place to raise her four children, she said.
And the qualities she values about the area drive the spirit of the KidsFest event – in particular encouraging families to appreciate the simple pleasures in life.
“I’ve lived in Shellharbour for 38 years and I’m very lucky we live so close to Blackbutt Reserve,” she said.
“For a lot of young parents, there’s so much pressure to buy this latest whizz bang toy, or to go here or to go there.
“It sounds like a cliche, but the most fun my children and grandchildren had was with an empty box.
“KidsFest’s theme this year is Discover, and we want families to explore all the free things there are to do in our area. It’s about imagination.”
When Ms Parsons was a young mother, Shellharbour was considered a bit of a holiday destination from Wollongong.
“People would say ‘why do you want to live all the way out there?’
“Cows would come down to the back fence and a man on a horse would ride over to round them up.”
Ms Parsons said the area where Flinders is now was an empty paddock known as “site 7200”.
“The area’s probably grown at least four times in size since then, and it’s still growing. I think it’s great.”
KidsFest will take place on May 18-24 and will encompass 50 events spread throughout the city.
Among the activities is a chance for children to visit Calderwood Holstein Dairies to see cows being milked.
A giant playgroup muster in the park at Blackbutt Forest Reserve is a highlight – attracting up to 600 children in past years – along with the finale at Killalea featuring kite flying, circus activities and children’s art classes.
For a full list of events and more details, see kidsfestshellharbour.com.au.