It’s amazing how quickly a year goes by; it feels like just yesterday when I covered the Mirboo North Italian Festa for the first time. I missed the ‘festive’ part of the festa, which followed the mass later on in the day, so this year my aim was to cover those latter activities, as they are more the fun part of what this festa is all about; food, wine, music, grape stomping and all that (I’m sure that there was some Grappa exchanging hands somewhere on that day last year). Given the short notice of last year’s festa, it turned out to be quite an event and I suspect much larger than anyone expected or hoped to achieve. This year the advertising has been far more extensive and there was a good chance that it was going to be a much bigger event than last year.
I perhaps anticipated too soon when I thought that this year’s event would be much bigger as, unfortunately, the weather gods decided to bring us rain after a week or so of high temperatures. The cooler weather was most certainly welcome over the near 40C days that we had recently, but the rain did put a bit of a damper on things. That said, the numbers attending were surprisingly large given the poor weather forecast, and it appeared to be as well attended as last year. And despite intermittent drizzle, downpours and then glimpses of sun, it didn’t appear to dampen the spirits of those who attended. There were far more food stalls in places (45 or so), Italian cooking lessons, a market and a lot more entertainment for the kids. The Festa started as it did last year with the mass, followed by the festivities; all carefully watched over by some Roman folk, roamin’ ’round the Festa.
The day’s event was MC’d by James Liotta (yes, I had to search that – sorry) and the festivities started with dancing and music by the Sicilia Bella Dance Group and then a reading followed by entertainment from students of Mirboo North Primary School. The students displayed great courage and fortitude when confronted by James and his probing and embarrassing questions and, to their great credit, they didn’t chicken out when it came to putting on their show. With the rain settling in again, the audience numbers kept fluctuating, but I suppose many were still lining up for their lunches and whatnot. It was clearly busy given the snaking lines from the numerous stalls set up in Baromi Park. Others had gazebos set up near the stage, so they were well sheltered from the inclement weather and rather comfortable for the most part with their picnic baskets, vino, etc.
The crowds began to slowly gather around the stage (with hungry bellies now sated) and by the time the Rustica Project Band fired up, the numbers had increased substantially. And as the weather provided attendees with a respite, as well as a little sunshine, people flocked to the front of the stage for some entertainment and dancing of their own. Then followed some Latin dance moves and by this time the crowd had truly swelled, in no small part because everyone was waiting for Tony Pantano (our version of Tom Jones) to come on stage. While Tony provided some great entertainment, the heavens opened up once more and it became a sea of umbrellas and anything else to keep attendees dry. But I don’t think many were all that concerned by the fluctuating weather.
Once the show was over, the activities turned to the major event of the day, that being the grape stomping competition. Competitors had registered earlier in the day and were drawn by lot to begin their attempt at this year’s challenge. Last year’s champions were waiting in the sidelines to take on the winners, but I have no idea of the eventual outcomes. The crowds crammed around the stage and umbrellas popped up everywhere as the heavens opened up once again, such that it became quite difficult to get clear shots. I didn’t want to just barge in, stand in front of people and become an obnoxious photographer, so the few shots I took will have to suffice (maybe next time I’ll bring a ladder). As I departed, I took one last look at the frenetic action and wondered how much the rain was adding to the grape juice being stomped out by the competitors. And I’m sure the final act, comedian Joe Avati, would have had something to say about today’s weather, I certainly did (at least to myself).
There’s one final story to the Festa, which revealed another aspect of the life and times of the Italian families as they grew up in a new land; the La Vestina Bianca exhibition (something that you could do an entire story on). Throughout the last few weeks, many shops in town were displaying wedding dresses that belonged to what I understand are the younger generation of Italian brides, but in the old town hall there was a large display that showcased the wedding dresses worn by the early arrivals, with the gifts and such that formed part of many a wedding and post wedding activities. The Germano family’s trunk raised more questions than answers and I should have taken greater note (perhaps someone can elaborate). And I’m not sure if one of the brides or grooms arrived on the Vespa, or perhaps one of the family members used it to bring along the Grappa (disguised as milk bottles) for the reception, but it was a nice touch.
Given the unfortunate weather we had, it was still an outstanding event and attended by far more people than I expected, from near and far (at least one bus load from Melbourne it appears), which shows that events such as these and the amazing effort put in by the volunteers is always well worth it. But let’s hope that next year’s weather is somewhat more convivial than what we endured this year, to match the atmosphere of what is the Mirboo North Italian Festa.