IT’S the early 1960s in Bingara, the tiny town that had the greatest number of military enlistments in WWII per capita in the state.
And to honour its rich military history, the mayor at the time decided to create a lasting legacy to remember its fallen servicemen and women.
His decision to plant nearly 100 orange trees along Finch Street and circling the Gwydir oval has helped characterise the town, whose population barely tips 1000.
The trees have since grown to become a symbol of community pride, and the annual harvesting of the fruit by the local school children, known as the orange police, occurs just one day of the year.
That day forms part of the annual Bingara Orange Festival, the brainchild of Nancy MacInnes.
Mrs MacInnes, unofficially known as the Queen of Bingara around the traps, created the festival in 1998 to honour the fallen, including her father Vincent McTaggart, who was killed on duty in the Fall of Singapore in 1942.
The 81-year-old founded the iconic Bingara Orange Festival using $500 out of her own pocket.
“I was looking for something that was Bingara’s own,” Mrs MacInnes said.
“It’s a very unusual story.
“I ran it with the community help for the first 10 years or so.
“It’s getting bigger and better every years so it’s now under the umbrella of the shire, which is good.”
The original avenue of oranges planted along Finch Street between the RSL Club and the Central School were Valencias.
But an extensive orange tree planting program took place over the last few years, with more than 80 Navel orange trees extending further along Finch Street, as well as along the boundary of the town’s sports grounds, the Gwydir Oval.
One of the original Valencia orange trees can still be seen on the street corner adjacent to the Bingara RSL.
Mrs MacInnes said the festival allows younger generations to honour the town’s rich military history.
“We’re proud of our military history because we had the greatest number of enlistments per capita in NSW in WWII,” she said.
“We had people in the Boer War.
“In WWII, we had 320 from here.
“We’re very proud of our military history.
“Most of the fellows were in the second battalion and a lot ended up in Changi.
“It’s very, very sad, but we honour their courage.
“The orange trees are like a living memorial.”
The annual two-day festival, which aims to emphasise the importance of Bingara’s orange trees while celebrating Bingara’s cultural and military heritage, kicked off on Friday.
To mark the opening, a ceremony to commemorate the fallen soldiers was held at noon before local school children began picking the oranges.
Marketing and promotions team leader Georgia Standerwick said it’s an exciting year-long wait for the students, who make signs and tape off the trees in their role as the orange police, to ensure no one can pick the oranges during the year – including visitors.
“It goes from solemn to absolutely chaotic,” Ms Standerwick said of the action on Friday.
“The kids act as the orange police.
“Even if visitors pick the oranges (during the year), they’re in so much trouble.
“There are kids flying everywhere picking oranges.
“Every child ends up with a bag or two then the remainder go to community groups and a trailer load for the next day (at the festival).”
The festival has proven bigger and better each year, growing to attract about 2000 people over the two days.
The trees this year have produced a bumper crop of fruit so harvest was well-timed for the local school students.
“It’s one of those things in Bingara that we love,” Ms Standerwick said of the orange picking.
“It’s a really nice tradition, often with three generations doing it together.”
This year’s event will have festival goers dancing in the street as it takes on a Happy Days theme, celebrating the nostalgia and music of the 50s and 60s.
After the orange picking, a special screening of Grease at the Roxy Theatre was aired on Friday night to raise money for the maintenance of the Bingara Fitness Centre.
The action will continue into Saturday, with vintage car and fashion displays, screenings of Happy Days in the historic Roxy Theatre, Rock n Roll music to get your toes tapping.
Performances will be held by Darlin and The Midnight Delights’, the Moree District Band and Miss Ilona Harker.
The festival also features kids’ rides, entertainment, and rock n roll dance demonstrations.
For those with a will of stone and a stomach of steel, don’t miss the Orange Festival Hot Dog eating competition.
There are three age categories: Weiner Dogs for those aged 8-11 years, Saveloys for the 12-16 years and The Big Dogs for those aged 17-97 years.
The competition kicks off at 11.45am Saturday on the main stage.
The contestant to devour their hot dog in the fastest time will be crowned the winner.
Organisers expect this year’s Bingara Orange Festival to be one of the biggest yet, with three codes of football being played at home on Saturday.
The festival runs until the afternoon of Saturday, July 1.
Mrs MacInnes encouraged all locals to visit the festival and the proud town of Bingara.
“Bingara, it’s the most beautiful town in the New England,” she said.
“Come along and see for yourself.”
To find out more about Bingara Orange Festival and for a guide, visit www.bingara.com.au/our-history/our-heritage/bingara-oranges-history/bingara-orange-festival/