The simple pleasures in life


The simple pleasures in life

words Heidi HELBIG
>> Jill Wehr. Image & main image by Sam Kroepsch

Beneath the exquisite haute couture and accessories, it’s Jill Wehr’s joie de vivre that resonates from the pages of the 2023 Barossa Vintage Festival programme.

The 2023 Barossa Vintage Festival will be held from April 19-23.

“Jill sparkles,” says Ruth Blythman, the Festival Director behind this year’s 75th anniversary event.

Jill, Miss Tanunda of 1953, says she was flattered when asked to recreate the iconic image featuring the first ever Barossa Vintage Festival Queen, Joan Hoffmann, which was used throughout the 1950s to promote the festival.

The hero imagery is a celebration of ageing with joy, grace and glamour, with a contemporary wink.

“Using Jill as our model felt like a really sweet nod to where the festival has been, but also where it’s going,” says Ruth.

“The Vintage Festival Queen is such an adored historical story for locals, and this is our contribution to that story.”

>> Photo by Claudio Rashella

The project was a creative collaboration between Ruth (Release Creative), Erica Brady and Kym Jericho (Brady & Co) and Jill’s granddaughter, Emily Hay (formerly Barossa Australia).

Claudio Rashella’s photographs capture an unmistakable sense of theatre and timing.

“Jill was such a pro and there was a real chemistry between the creative team, and I think that’s what comes through in the shoot,” Ruth says.

“It really was one of those magical moments to be honest – it felt like we were creating something special. Everyone understood the significance of this moment in time.”

Accompanied by her daughter, Catherine and granddaughter, Emily, Jill was photographed in several designer garments, including a Couture Love Madness gown by Cristina Tridente.

“It was lovely fun really,” says Jill.

“They had the dress all ready to take some photos – it was a gorgeous double sateen gown, miles too big so it was pinned all the way down the back,” she laughs.

“I like new experiences and that certainly was one.

“Another granddaughter recently sent me an email saying ‘I’ve just seen the programme, Granny, and you’re on the cover and you’re beautiful.’ It was certainly exciting.”

>> Front cover of Reader's Digest magazine 1954.
>> The Vintage Queen, Miss Marilyn Richards, surrounded by the representatives of the other towns who competed with her for the title. Back row: Miss Eden Valley, Miss Margaret Lillecrapp; Miss Rowland Flat, Miss Lola Barritt. Middle row: Miss Maranaga, Miss Mavis Schwarz; Miss Lyndoch, Miss Elva Appleton; Miss Tanunda, Miss Jillian Fietz; Miss Nuriootpa, Miss Jill Freeman. Front: Miss Greenock, Miss Dorothy Bachmann; Miss Richards, and Miss Angaston, Miss Margaret Hall.

“We all wore our evening gowns and long white gloves and they looked at our deportment, what we knew about the Valley, where we worked, table manners – all those sorts of things required to be a demure lady in those days. It was all very exciting at 18!”

- Jill Wehr

The experience completes a long and happy association with the Barossa Vintage Festival for Jill, now 88 years young.

The daughter of army officer, Albert Fietz of Tanunda, Jill moved to her father’s hometown at the age of 11 and was a mere 18 when she was crowned Miss Tanunda.

“First of all, six or seven girls were nominated by various organisations in the towns; I was nominated by the Mothers’ and Babies’ Association, I remember, and the girls were then interviewed by a couple of women from Adelaide,” recalls Jill.

“We all wore our evening gowns and long white gloves and they looked at our deportment, what we knew about the Valley, where we worked, table manners – all those sorts of things required to be a demure lady in those days.

“It was all very exciting at 18!”

While Miss Truro, Marilyn Richards, was ultimately crowned Barossa Vintage Queen of 1953, Jill says there were no hard feelings: “Nobody minded – it was all part of the fun!”

Amongst her many fond Festival memories, Jill recalls the “magnificent” floral-covered floats in the festival parade; she herself was immortalised on the front cover of Reader’s Digest magazine the following year.

“It was quite a lovely float – I was on the throne and all the other girls were my hand maidens,” recalls Jill.

“My granddaughter, Emily was horrified that I was being pulled along by six slaves, being young men from Tanunda, but I said they quite enjoyed it!”

Of course traditions have changed over time to ensure South Australia’s largest regional festival remains socially and culturally relevant, including the much-loved role of the Vintage Queen.

“The first Queen was not called a Vintage Queen – she was the Daughter of Bacchus, the wine god. Of course in a good Lutheran community that was quashed very quickly!” says Jill.

>> Behind the scenes. Photo by Claudio Rashella
>> Three generations: Jill Wehr (centre) pictured with daughter Catherine Hull (left) and granddaughter Emily Hay. Photo by Claudio Rashella

ill’s daughter, Anne continued the tradition as a Vintage Queen entrant many years later, while the introduction of the Barossa Young Ambassadors Programme acknowledges the significant role of young men and women in the region’s food, wine and tourism industries.

Young Ambassador, Rebekah Rosenzweig will launch her book, ‘A History of the Barossa Vintage Festival – Past and Present Events’ on April 21, featuring interviews with 12 of 25 Vintage Queens crowned between 1948 and 1997, plus several finalists including Jill.

Rebekah says researching the book was a labour of love.

“The Vintage Queen was such a big part of the festival, and so colourful,” she says.

“The book brings all these community stories together in one place, stories that have not been shared before.”

For Jill’s part, she is sanguine about the upcoming festival and her high-profile role as cover girl.

“I’d do it all again, no regrets!”

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