This weekend in Melbourne we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Moomba Festival. The creation of Moomba was arguably the beginning of a wonderful tradition of major events in Melbourne.
Following the demise of the Labour Day Procession in 1952, the then City Development Association and the Melbourne City Council proposed an autumn festival to breathe life into a city that was experiencing mass suburbanization. Concerns were emerging that the City of Melbourne was in economic decline. From the very beginning, Moomba had an uncertain purpose – some saw it as a commercial for the city shopkeepers; others saw it as a free, family based festival that encouraged a bit of fun. Sections of the Melbourne establishment were not amused and called it hedonistic and embodying social decay!
In March 1955 the first Moomba carnival ran for 15 days. The inaugural program included a fireworks display, vintage car display, Henley rowing regatta, river floats including a ‘Lord Mayor’s houseboat’, a cycling race, tennis at Kooyong, concerts including performances by the Victorian Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic choir, crowning of the Queen of Moomba and a riverside carnival. Around 25,000 people turned out to watch the inaugural Moomba parade down Swanston Street.
The official story of the word Moomba is that it is an aboriginal word meaning ‘let’s get together and have fun’. The true etymology, however, remains ambiguous, with some repots that it means ‘up your bum’ and was a joke played out on unsuspecting white toffs.
Whatever the intention and despite all its foibles, Melbourne has continued to embrace Moomba. It has been reported that Moomba is Australia’s largest free community event and that a record 1.7 million people attended the carnival in 1996.
Since the establishment of Moomba, Melbourne has evolved into a City known for festivals and major events – everything from the Grand Prix to the Flower and Garden Show; the Food and Wine Festival to the AFL Grand Final; Australian Open tennis to the Comedy Festival and many many more. From the experience of the last few weeks you can probably also add White Night to the calendar of events.
A lot has changed in Melbourne since the early days of Moomba. We have become an international city with a rich smorgasbord of events that is now the envy of many other cities in the world. The City Development Association would be proud.