Canberra’s latest Multicultural Festival drew in record crowds, leaving the ACT Government to ponder whether it might be time to relocate.
The (normally) annual festival returned from a COVID-induced hibernation of three years for its 25th anniversary on Friday, 17 February, running through to Sunday, 19 February.
Using phone data and other statistical surveys, the government estimates about 350,000 people attended, blowing the previous record of 250,000 out of the water.
A record 170 different cultures were also represented in 250 stalls along City Walk, including some for the first time, such as Afghanistan and Tibet. It’s what led to the festival’s expansion into Glebe Park this year, with welcome shade for attendees and stallholders on a sweltering weekend.
There were also 30 showcases and performances across the festival’s eight stages.
But what’s the consensus now it’s over?
Multicultural Affairs Minister Tara Cheyne didn’t hold back: “Without a doubt, we can say this was the best Multicultural Festival ever.
“There were a lot of emotions after coming back after such a long time … For people to essentially visit a different continent within a few steps … is very special.”
Ms Cheyne said India’s representation reported “huge crowds on Saturday night” while China’s performances in Ainslie Place “held consistently great crowds over the three days”.
“I’m proud, pleasantly weary, and just delighted with the outcome for the multicultural community, our store holders, our performers and all attendees.”
The first festival dates back to 1981 when it was held as a one-day event on Australia Day by the ACT Ethnic Communities Council. It then took the name of the National Multicultural Festival in 1996, and the ACT Government came on board as a major supporter at about the same time.
It’s been held in Civic, specifically along London Circuit, Ainslie Square and Civic Square since the beginning, but Ms Cheyne admits the city has grown massively in the past 25 years to the point where the festival may have to move.
“It’s something we have been reflecting on.”
It comes on the back of 12 noise complaints directed at the organisers, including some on Thursday night during initial sound tests. It prompted a last-minute change to the festival’s footprint.
“Given how many people do live around the city, it’s reasonable,” Ms Cheyne said.
“These are future decisions for government, but we’ll be looking at the feedback we’ve received anecdotally from store holders, businesses and residents as we prepare for the festival in 2024.”
For Karen, a Canberran of 20 years, last Friday was the first time she’d attended the festival.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere, how spread out it was and that there was a range of seating options,” she told Region.
“I’ve avoided it previously because of the crushing crowds in the blazing heat with limited seating areas.”
Madeleine described it as the “best one so far”.
“Excellent layout, fewer choke points, excellent placement of stages and vendors. But it would be nice if they could get commitments from all vendors to have a continuous presence across all three days.”
Rosalind cited a “much better layout” and shady areas “with lots of seats and bins”.
“Food prices were quite expensive, but the knowledge gained from the different cultures’ info tents was amazing.”
Tristan’s wallet was also “suffering PTSD from the prices, but the food was good”.
Laura suggested mapping for future events “giving an idea of what cultural groups are in which sections – simply saying ‘section A’ wasn’t particularly helpful”.
“Clearer listing of food stalls would be good too. Overall a fantastic event!”
Then there was Dave, who decided against going “on account of running into ex-girlfriends and people from work”.
Did you go this year? Tell us what you think in the comments.