I’m not from Melbourne, not even from Victoria. All I knew about the Moomba Festival was from television coverage of the Bird Man Rally each year where people attempt to fly cardboard contraptions by jumping off a pontoon into the Yarra River for charity.
Except for the charity, I never got it. There’s a party, part carnival, part water sport competition, and a parade for reasons unspecified to celebrate stuff, with a couple crowned King and Queen of Moomba, held across the Labour Day long weekend.
This weekend, after decades of living in Victoria, I finally attended the Moomba Parade. And you know what? I get it now. It’s just a reason to celebrate what Melbourne is, which is pretty bloody good on the day like this.
Happy crowds, pleasant surroundings, safe environment, mild weather ranging between almost rain to sunshiny, and family friendly. Waiting for the parade, my friend’s son asked me what was unique to Melbourne that was worth celebrating. Off the top of my head, I could think of three things.
ONE: The NGV. The National Gallery of Victoria is the most visited art gallery in the world – by local residents. More tourists go to the great galleries of Europe and America than the locals of Paris, London and New York, and fair enough too. But it is only Melburnians who love to keep loving their art. Street art, performance art, whatever. Art loves ’em back.
TWO: The Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation. This continent is home to the oldest living cultures on Earth. These cultures continue because of the efforts of past and present peoples who have always lived in places like the location of the City of Melbourne (the Birrarung Valley). It’s not often you can say ‘always’ and mean it. In Australia, ‘always’ means by scientific measure more than 65,000 years. To traditional peoples it means so much more. For Moomba, it meant the heartfelt Wurundjeri Welcome to Country began the parade to an enthusiastic response. Nowhere else gets to have this.
THREE: I told my friend’s son that Melbourne was the only place in the world where he was right at that minute. And me. To be present was everything. We waved flags and shared in the energy of joyous dancers and determined drummers and participants demonstrating what it was to be there, where ever they were from. And, Melburnians are proud of the fact they are from everywhere…and get along. The floats, the old dancers, the young drummers, the Chinese dragon, the marching bands, each community group from Japan to Spain, and even the skylarking high vis security bloke riding a bike, were as Melbourne as any one. They were as Melbourne as a black-clad inner city worker balancing on a chair unevenly set on cobblestones, sipping a short macchiato alfresco in a dim CBD lane-way cafe as steam-shrouded baristas call out names from behind 1950s laminated counters under a grey shifting sky.
Melbourne is not without its problems but they are not unique. Of course, I completely missed oodles of history and achievements that are unique to Melbourne, like it being the home of the Australian Football League, but sat in the dirt on the curb, my list of three was what I told Elijah.
Moomba was the parade. Moomba was also after the parade. It was when the happy throng of people wandered with the dancers and the drummers who paused for photos with families and kept performing in the gardens.
Moomba was the lingering communal wonder of it all. It was worth it.