17 February 2017

What you need to know about the National Multicultural Festival

| Elias Hallaj
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Canberra’s annual National Multicultural Festival will celebrate it’s 21st birthday in the centre of Canberra this weekend, starting at 4pm on Friday afternoon. #NMF2017 (also known as “meat on a stick day” by Canberra regulars) is set to provide a fun and free family-friendly weekend that includes activities for everyone, music shows, more food and drink stalls than you can possibly handle, as well as dancing and cultural celebrations.

NMF2017 header_image

Australian star Kate Ceberano headlines the festival on opening night supported by Andrea Kirwin and Band. With her soaring voice and Aria award-winning melodies, Kate has been a fixture of the Australian music scene since the 1980s and has entertained crowds at festivals, major concert halls, on TV and in clubs across the nation. In 2014, Kate – whose cultural heritage includes American, Portuguese and Filipino – was the first Australian woman to be inducted into the Australian Songwriters Association Hall of Fame, a tribute to her more than 35-year music career. Last June during the Queen’s birthday honours awards, Kate was awarded an Order of Australia for her charitable work and services to the music industry.


Look out for South African a capella group Africa Entsha on Friday and Saturday. Australian acts include Sol Nation and Cumbiamuffin with their Colombian sounds. The festival also welcomes Sonik Waves, Miriam Lieberman, C Major, the Justin Yap Band and Titian Payne and the Big Island Express and a range of much loved local acts.

The Festival’s free Friday nighty opening concert in Garema Place will feature headline performer Kate Ceberano along with Wiradjuri, Bollywood, Andrea Kirwin, Miriam Leiberman, The Borderers and Sol Nation. Along with this incredible line-up of entertainment, stallholders will be selling delicious food, drink and lots more for all to enjoy.

All up 13 showcases and performance areas will give festival spectators an opportunity to delve into the food and traditions of nations across the globe. Be sure to look out for:

  • African Village
  • ASEAN Showcase
  • Belly Dance Showcase
  • Celtic Ceilidh Showcase
  • European Village Showcase
  • Greek Glendi
  • Happy Chinese New Year Showcase
  • India in the City
  • Indigenous Showcase
  • Latin Quarters
  • Pacific Islands United Showcase
  • Shimmy Shindig Showcase
  • US State Fair Experience

Full details can be found at the #NMF2017 website.

The 2017 Festival sees the return of multicultural comedy with top comedian Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee and Joe Avati’s Show Us Your Roots showing at The Canberra Theatre.

The variety of multicultural food available in Canberra this weekend is mind-boggling.


As well as many exotic foods there are also standard carnival fare such as chips on a stick and dutch pancakes, both the subject of criticism from some street food connoisseurs who claim they should not be seen at such a festival.


An article Calling for a ban on Dutch pancakes, chips on sticks at Multicultural Festival was one of the RiotACT’s most-read in 2016. Personally I don’t see what the culinary attraction is to chips on a stick but I know the kids love them, so who am I to judge?

In past years CBRfoodie designed and supplied a NMF Bingo sheet to help fellow foodies navigate and track their way through a weekend of food and drink. There’s no CBRfoodie bingo this year but you can find the old 2015 bingo sheet here. There’s even a version that ACT Labor put out last year, not as good as the original, but nice try.

You can follow #NMF2017 news and updates on twitter @NatMultiFest and on Facebook as well as Instagram.

In 2017 the footprint is even larger than past years, to include Bunda Street, spreading out the number of stalls and by providing access to sanctuaries for those wishing to take a rest from the rush. The new sanctuaries – one specifically for children and parents, and the other for Canberrans of all ages and abilities – will offer a quiet space to retreat and a chance to enjoy the festival’s engaging performances and activities. The areas will provide respite with plenty of seating and shade.

The Children’s Sanctuary is located in Canberra Museum and Gallery near Civic Square, while the Sanctuary for all ages and abilities can be found in Petrie Plaza. In addition, to help beat the heat and ensure all festival attendees are well hydrated, we have partnered with ACT Smart and ACT Health to install cold water stations and bubblers in the festival footprint. Don’t forget to bring your recyclable water bottles to refill throughout the weekend.

Here are the essential bits you need to know:

PROGRAM – A copy of the #NMF2017 program is available online and also in this week’s edition of the free colour magazine The Canberra Weekly.

MAPA map and list of stallholders is available online.

TRANSPORT – #NMF2017 is held in the heart of the Canberra city centre and is easily accessible. Parking is often limited, so other means of transportation to the Festival is recommended, such as Action Buses.

WEATHER – The Bureau of Meteorology is predicting a mixed bag this weekend, so best to check the BOM weather forecast on the day you plan to travel. Friday evening looks like the only day that will definitely be dry at this stage. The upside of attending when it rains is shorter queues and less pram jams!

Most importantly – have fun! Some of the culinary highlights in recent years included numerous foreign beers not regularly sold in Canberra, Loukoumades: deliciously Greek sweet made of golden balls of deep fried dough drizzled with honey, various barbecued meats and vegetables (often served on a stick), Too many different kinds of dumplings and more gozleme stalls than you can poke a stick at!

But it’s not just about the food. #NMF2017 will be, like it always is, a smorgasbord of music, dance, culture and entertainment. Take lots of photos and videos and share them on facebook, twitter and with the RiotACT!

NMF dancers

Elias Hallaj (aka CBRfoodie) is a part-time food blogger and full-time political staffer who has joined RiotACT as a regular contributor. All opinions are his own. If you have any tips or feedback you can find him on Twitter @CBRfoodie.

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Elias Hallaj (aka CBRFoodie)9:09 am 17 Feb 17

I should have also mentioned for all those interested in what other Canberra foodies recommend… (everyone knows Canberra is the foodie capital of Australia)? Canberra foodie Megan Sparke (@Girlhassparke on twitter) has collected some #NMF2017 food tips from Canberra food bloggers for National Multicultural Festival visitors which you can find here http://www.thegirlhassparke.com/2017/02/food-advice-multicultural-festival/

John Hargreaves9:01 am 17 Feb 17

And… don’t forget to come to the stage near Bailey’s corner on Sunday at 1.20 and see the Old 45s band. I’m in it! Come and say g’day.

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