Now this one had me completely taken aback when I first heard about it, especially as I couldn’t find anything on the internet telling me what it was about (history wise). We’ve lived in Mirboo North for over four years and this is the first time that I’d heard of the Mirboo North Italian Festa, despite the fact that it’s been running for nearly 50 years. Apparently it was previously called the St Paul Festival but is now known as the Mirboo North Italian Festa. It’s basically a family festival commemorating the history of the Italian people in the region, all things Italian, and St Paul, the Patron Saint of Solarino from where many of the families now living in the region came from, so many years ago. Today, it’s morphed into a wider festival, encompassing all cultures that live in the region.
So when I went to the event, I discovered the history of the Festa and its association with the Italian community, as it was depicted in the Old Grain Store. At the end of this story, I’ve included large photographs of the potted history of the Italian community in the region, so that anyone interested can read things in more detail, somewhat like the Driffield Memorial story (click on the images for a larger view). Apparently, around 80% of Mirboo North’s Italian migrants came from the town of Solarino in Sicily, which is largely due to the migrant sponsorship scheme that was in operation for many years, though the history of migration (PDF file) to Australia goes back a long way. But here’s the first of that potted history to give a little more background information.
The first activity at the Festa was a public Mass, which drew a large crowd of church goers and other observers, including some from many centuries ago. The weather this day was ideal and the shade offered by the large trees in Baromi Park provided the perfect setting for the Mass. After Holy Communion, the statue of St Paul, considered the saint of good harvests amongst other things (most appropriate given the region), was carried from the alter, as has been traditionally enacted for centuries in Sicily. Though given the nature of our landscape, time of year and the locality, the traditional fireworks etc weren’t part of today’s ceremony.
Of course I had to catch up with our legionnaire and damsel, who turned out to be Robert and partner Barbara from Leongatha, who like to dress for the occasion in order to add a historical touch to the Italian Festa. Robert explained that he was representing what was a 1st Century Roman Legionnaire. It was a good reminder of the history that brought about such things as the St Paul festival and the part in history that the Roman Legionary Soldiers had to play, so many centuries past.
Now the other major part of the Italian Festa is food and festivities, and there was no shortage of vendors at Baromi Park, offering just about everything to satisfy anyone’s tastes. The crowds were huge this day, with people coming from far and wide. By midday, the crowd seemed to be in the thousands, enjoying the food, sunshine and getting ready for some of the performances later on in the day. Pretty much what you’d expect at a Roman festival, but then, maybe not.
Italian chariots were also present, showing off both old and new Italian automotive history. While the Ferraris are a good looking car, I have to say that the best car on display had to be the 1966 Fiat Abarth 695 owned by Robert (Roberto) from Melbourne and member of the Fiat Car Club. Robert has owned the Fiat for six years and completed a number of additions, on top of restoration, including adding a five speed gearbox so that the 695cc engine could lope along in a more relaxed manner on the freeways. Robert was recently offered a sizable sum for the Fiat, but has no intention of selling the car, as he gets far to much fun from it and simply loves it for what it represents. BTW, the hatch at the rear can stay open while driving to keep the engine cool, as it was never designed for Australian conditions.
As part of the history, there was also a small display depicting what I’m guessing is a typical family room of the day. Having arrived from overseas with my parents, at around the same time as many of those depicted in the stories, I sort of remember the decor of the 50s/60s. And I’m sure that the colourful bicycles have meaning and memory for many who left Sicily so many years ago.
With the music and other things starting later in the day, I didn’t get any photographs of what unfolded, but there’s always next year, especially now that I know what to expect. And, if I covered everything at once, there’d be nothing left for next year. Anyway, here are the remainder of the photographs depicting the potted history of the arrival and settlement of the Italian migrants in the Mirboo North region.
This was one huge event and it once again amazes me that such things happen in a small rural town that many in Melbourne don’t even know exists. Mind you, many living in Melbourne don’t know much, if anything, of this part of the state. There’s so much history, so much culture and so much to love about this part of Australia that I can’t believe how lucky we are.