Once upon a time, Goulburn and its surrounding district held the biggest and best festival going. There were activities on street corners, the carnival in Belmore Park, lilac queens renowned for their beauty and fundraising, a glittering ball and a magnificent street parade.
Ask any Goulburn long timer and they readily recall Australia’s longest, continuously run community festival, the Lilac City Festival. But like most volunteer organised local events, time passes, volunteers and their enthusiasm slip away and the glitter fades.
However, in 2018, when the festival was in danger of folding, something wonderful happened. The community rallied, the committee got a huge shot in the arm of new blood and the locals rolled their sleeves up. Slowly but surely, the festival made a comeback. At its heart, the iconic street parade which hadn’t been held since 2012.
On Sunday, the 2019 Lilac Parade wound its way along Goulburn’s main street for 35-40 minutes, such were the number of participants. It was a reflection of the diversity of a community: sporting groups, small business floats, a snapshot of other local festivals and events including the Goulburn Mulwaree Council’s Steampunk Victoriana Fair and Convoy for Kids, Relay for Life, and the Goulburn Hot Rods and Classic Cars show.
Service clubs, the rural fire brigades, the Goulburn Local AECG (Aboriginal Education Consultative Group), the Soldiers Club Pipes and Drums Band, Goulburn’s multicultural community, and local theatre groups also made up the colorful procession. The Rocky Hill Musical Theatre Company with the cast of its latest production Oliver! sang a selection of songs as they made their way along the street, adding sound to the visual display.
There was even a small contingent of ‘green’ Raiders fans who joined the procession to support ‘Goulburn boy’ and Raiders Captain Jarrod Croker.
Leading the parade was festival Patron and former Mayor Tony Lamarra. He’s been involved in much of the history of the festival during its 68 years. Last year he hoped the festival would “return to old times”.
“The Lilac City Festival helps make Goulburn a better place, and it attracts visitors,” he said in 2018. He wasn’t far off the mark given the community-led resurrection of the festival in 2019.
Dogging the festival in the past was a kind of political festival rivalry with Goulburn’s other floral event, the Rose Festival which has gone into hiatus in 2020 due in part to dwindling committee numbers and CIT pulling out of compiling the major rose display.
So, is Goulburn district a lilac town or a rose town?
It’s a moot question given the plethora of fairs, festivals, and events the Goulburn region is hosting – all entertaining local residents and boosting regional tourism.
The Lilac Parade on Sunday put paid to that age-old rivalry as organisers took the opportunity to showcase their events. There was room for it all – lilacs, hot rods and truck convoys, heritage festivals and Goulburn’s other major event, the Steampunk Victoriana Fair on 19-20th October. A float advertising the Rose Festival would have been just as welcome.
Following former Mayor Lamarra was newly crowned Lilac Queen April Watson on the premier float made by hardworking committee members. Committee president and also a former Mayor of Goulburn Cr Carol James wanted the festival to return to its values of yesteryear.
“We are trying to get back to the values of the beginnings of the Lilac City Festival in Goulburn. We want to be inclusive and involve the whole of the community,” Carol said in the weeks leading up to the 2019 event.
Judging by the Lilac Parade, that goal has been realised.
You can find out more about the Goulburn Lilac City Festival here. While you’re there, give them the thumbs up for bringing back a community event that not only showcases the Goulburn region’s staying power but an inclusive vision for the future.