16 September 2020

Let Floriade's flowers bloom across Canberra every year

| Ian Bushnell
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Trenerry Square near Cooleman Court in Weston

The garden bed at Trenerry Square near Cooleman Court in Weston. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

At my local shopping centre in Weston, a little park near the post office that has not been much loved despite a government revamp has now come alive with pansies and poppies.

Driving out of Streeton Drive to the Cotter Road, drivers are surprised by a welcome bank of flowers.

All over Canberra, the reimagined Floriade is treating people coming out of a winter of COVID-19 restrictions to a kaleidoscope of colour.

While COVID-19 has put paid to the annual floral spectacular in Commonwealth Park that brought thousands of tourists and millions of dollars to the national capital, Canberrans have embraced the decision to disperse the festival to the suburbs.

More than 90 community groups have become involved and floral displays have sprung up on footpaths, streetscapes, local shops and other sites.

All these blossoms in the ‘burbs lighten the spirit but also beg the question, why wasn’t this done before?

Floriade has evolved from a community celebration to a major tourism attraction and moneyspinner and those million blooms have been concentrated in Commonwealth Park.

As a result, a degree of disengagement has grown despite organisers maintaining the role of community and school groups and a re-focus on regional producers and providers.

The problem has been that outside of Commonwealth Park, there has been little to say it’s Floriade time apart from private gardens and the odd footpath tulip.

It may have taken a pandemic but in a way the community has resumed ownership of the festival with a visible presence in the suburbs that delights the eye and reaffirms the eternal promise of spring.

So even if the pandemic passes in time for a return to Commonwealth Park, Floriade should continue to be shared right across the city.

It may cost more – make that two million blooms – but if we have learned anything from the pandemic it’s about what really matters: the little things of life that bring us joy and a sense of community.

It should not detract from the mass showings and other attractions in Commonwealth Park but complement the main festival, engaging more community groups, organisations and businesses to make it a genuine ACT-wide, month-long celebration.

A Floriade that happens across the city would also provide incentives for locals and visitors to explore the city more, along floral trails through the suburbs combined with open gardens.

It would be an opportunity to really showcase the whole national capital and all it offers.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr is open to the idea and the word is Events Canberra has been pleasantly surprised by the community interest and is keen to continue.

”I have to say so far it’s very positive; I would be inclined to do it again,” Mr Barr told Region Media.

”The next thing to test is the community reaction to September and October. All things seem to be quite positive, so I can see no reason why we couldn’t do something like this either in place of Commonwealth Park if COVID restrictions are still around in a year, or in addition to, as we look to evolve the event as it heads well into its fourth decade.”

So, whoever wins that other festival taking place at the same time as Floriade Reimagined this year – the ACT election – should commit to making the change permanent as a lasting positive memorial to those who lost loved ones and livelihoods to the pandemic.

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