There’s nothing like donning medieval garb and waving a sword to relieve the pressures of daily life as members of Bendigo’s Swordcraft crew explain.

By Sue Turpie – Photography by David Field

Coming along to one of the Bendigo Swordcraft gatherings is like walking onto the set of the TV show Merlin. Great costumes, big swords, and lots of fun. The official website describes Swordcraft as “Australia’s largest live action role play and battle game”. And that says it all, really. Simon Vincent is the president of the Bendigo chapter, which is fitting considering he founded the group some four years ago.
“I studied at university in Melbourne and I went to the chapter that was down there,” he says. “I moved to Bendigo to support my partner studying, so I opened the club because I couldn’t be bothered driving down to the city.”
The group started with about five people turning up to each gathering. This increased thanks to an article in a local newspaper. “We’ve been relatively strong and consistent ever since,” Simon says. “It’s a little bit of passion in history and little bit of stress release from work … it’s the nerd’s version of football.”
It starts with two teams at both end of the battleground. In this case, the soccer pitch at North Bendigo. There are cones on the ground indicating certain terrains and a marshall in a fluro vest overseeing the game. The group is big on safety.
“Each player has a number of hits they can take,” Simon explains, “determined by how protective their kit is. A knight would be more easily protected than an archer, with a knight wearing plate and an archer wearing leather. Teams are based on historical themes. We have a Viking, an Oriental, a Landsknecht which are German mercenary soldiers, and a few other groups. We have a made-up fantasy world and we fight over territory in that world.
“We’re quite free when it comes to historical accuracy. We try to follow semi-accurately, but it’s up to everyone how far they want to go. The weekly get-together is basically stress release but every few months we have a camping event which is more role-play, and we build big wooden forts and siege each other because it’s more fun.”
“We advise people to come along and we loan them a sword for their first night because it’s easy and after a while we encourage people to take a shield because it’s easy. Then people can start generally buying their own weapons of choice.”
There aren’t as many women on the field though.
“The game generally discourages females just because of the combat side of it,” Simon says, “but it’s completely safe. A lot of the women we have are passionate about the game, and they’re very good. Because of the fake equipment, this game isn’t necessarily about strength, it’s generally more about speed – the faster you strike your opponent the more likely they are to die.”
Gabbi Hodge is one of the female Swordcraft chapter, who was apprehensive at first when she joined in with her husband Michah, but is now a devoted part of the team.
“I’ve been doing it for nearly a year. My husband and I are both big nerds and like sci fi and all of that stuff,” she laughs. “My husband and his friends started going and at first I thought it would be ridiculous but now I really enjoy it. It’s more like a sport.
“My husband and I both use shields and long swords. Micah was quick to master it but it took me a little longer. But it’s like Michah said, when boys are little they’re always playing with sticks and hitting each other.”
With a bit of training at home, much to the delight of the couple’s children, Gabbi’s skills improved and she’s not afraid to get stuck in on the field.
“The next day I’ve got all these aches and bruises all over me. There’s a bit of strength, too, in holding the shield up and the chainmail I wear is about five or six kilos.
There is a minimum age limit of 16 years to take part in Swordcraft at the recreation reserve in Fenton Street, but anyone is welcome to come along on a Wednesday from 8pm and watch the action.