How would you describe a rainbow to a blind person? Or The Beatles to someone who is deaf?
It’s not easy. But this is what it is like to try and describe Confectionery Capers to someone who hasn’t been there. Located about 10 minutes’ drive outside Bendigo in a large Colorbond shed, this remarkable attraction would appeal to kids, big kids, dad joke aficionados, engineering enthusiasts, and anyone who is interested in a psychedelic drug experience without all that pesky business of illegally buying and taking them.
If you were a graphic designer, you might use the word ‘busy’ to describe the general vibe of 120+ brightly-coloured machines clustered together whirring in a shed. You would not be wrong. There is nothing – nothing – I have experienced that really compares to that first impression of walking through the front door and being confronted by the constant movement, noise and colour within. You can check out this short snippet of smartphone camera footage to get a sense of the chaos on offer (thanks to Dr Chris for sharing this from the trip).
But what wonders! The ‘arm pit’ is a bowl full of plastic dolls’ arms . There is Duncan the Clown, a toy clown who is mercilessly dunked into a bucket over and over again (geddit?). And the whimsically sinister Headquarters, which is a plastic bird with its head cut into four slices.
There are also caper phrases and capergrams everywhere, like “I want a pizza…the action!” and “High stakes…barbecue on top of Mt Everest!”. There is so very, very much more.
This is where mechanical engineering and puns collide with the boardgame Mouse Trap and yes, ok, a bit of candy as well. The Confectionery Capers website says it is about the celebration of the wheel as the greatest invention of the human race, and the quirky nature of the English language. Before I went I thought this sounded a bit mad. Now that I have visited I would describe it as accurate (see also: initial impression before I had visited).
This singular vision is all the work of one man – Campbell Smith, a former school teacher. After you have paid your (very reasonable) entrance fee, he makes you stand facing one of the exhibits while he introduces you over the loudspeaker, even if there is no-one else there. So you can’t say he doesn’t give your visit a sense of occasion.
For 20 years the place was a learning centre for schoolkids, before Campbell made the decision to open it up to the general public.
“I spent 30 years teaching English on the basis of its nonsense. And I started building these things 37 years ago. It’s 80 per cent fun, 20 per cent nightmare – and a lot of maintenance,” Smith says.
One of the (many) things I didn’t expect about Confectionery Capers is that it’s not about the candy. I mean, you can buy candy there, but only straight-talking chocolate bars like Snickers or the common, garden variety Caramello Koala. The most exotic it gets is the Jelly Belly jelly beans. If you fancy yourself as a bit of a confectionery expeditionary – or a sugar-centric version of David Attenborough – these are not the droids you’re looking for.
We stayed for about 40 minutes, which was about all my partner Jill and my friend Chris could take before they both started having acid flashbacks, even though neither of them had ever taken LSD. You can buy books of capergrams to take home. Don’t be shy.