Celebrating Water (What’s Left of It) in Melbourne

Posted on March 22, 2009

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March marks the end of what has been an extremely hot summer in Melbourne, and the city traditionally farewells the scorching season with a festival celebrating water, called the Moomba Festival. It’s quite different from conventional notions of ‘celebration’ where tonnes of the stuff would be carelessly used in lush abundance, such as the tomato-throwing parade in Spain. No, with a water storage level hovering at a mere 30%, the Moomba festival has taken on more serious themes like water conservation and the importance of using less and less.

Rain is such a rarity in Melbourne that everytime there’s a downpour, it’ll be on the 6 o’clock news headlines. “Melbourne awash with rain”, “Welcome shower for drought-stricken Melburnians” blurts out the newscasters with undisguised tones of joy. Because there’s not much you can do with water that’s not there, the water activities in the Moomba festival is mainly limited to water skiing type shows on the river Yarra that snakes through the city. The other drawcards are mostly wholesome family fun activities such as fun fairs, rides and a parade along the city’s main thoroughfare which is more community-minded than spectacular.

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This year in an effort to make the festival more appealing to the younger crowds, a concert was held showcasing, we are led to believe, Australia’s hottest acts. I guess I blame myself for being naïve enough into thinking that a free concert could be any good. Having said that, many in the crowd appear to genuinely enjoy themselves, so it could be either they’re drunk or it just wasn’t my kind of music.

In early February a large slice of Victoria was ravaged by bushfires on a day where the mercury reached 45.6°C. It was a horrible day in the city where the strong winds made you feel like a giant hairdryer was being used to blow the Earth. I can’t imagine how it must’ve felt for the communities that were affected by the fierce fires. Many lives were lost and towns and houses completely ruined.

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A huge concert was organised a few weeks later to build up funds for the fire relief effort. The photo above shows the weather on that day. How ironic that it ended up being the wettest day of the year so far. Weather-wise, Victoria is a most baffling place.

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Melbourne has this lingering image as a wet, rainy city. This reputation is actually undeserved considering it now receives less rainfall than cities like Brisbane or Sydney which has often been seen as the sunny cities of Australia. I suspect the culprits behind this fraud are Melburnians themselves, who wish to cling on to Melbourne’s image as the most European of Australia’s cities by evoking memories of dark grey clouds and suited up city workers sheltering under uniform black umbrellas. In any case, it was a relief to experience some dark comforting gloominess once in a while. The bright blue sky and sunkissed earth thing was starting to bring me down.

Posted in: Melbourne
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