Monday, March 9, 2009


My first visit to Moomba (Australia's largest free community festival) was 10 years ago during my first few months here in Australia. I knew little of Australia or Melbourne then and I had no idea what Moomba was. The Handsome Australian and I met up with a couple of his friends in the city and set about navigating our way through the crowds. My memory of the evening is something like this: There were lots of carnival type rides and games. There were booths where you could buy your typical carnival or festival type foods and it was all set out along the Yarra River in the city. I remember the Handsome Australian and his mates decided we'd all choose three rides and go on them together. I think the aim was to choose the most nauseating ones (you know the ones where they lock you in a cage and spin you vertically and horizontally at the same time?) and see who could ride them all without vomiting. Ah yes, the memories. (This was yet another occasion which proves my theory that youth is wasted on the ignorant.) I think we rode two rides and we were done. We felt sick for the rest of the night. And that has been my memory of Moomba until this past weekend...

On Sunday morning, the Handsome Australian mentioned we should take the kids into the City to Moomba.

Me: "Moomba? Oh yes, that's the festival we went to ten years ago and rode those rides that made me feel like vomiting for several days afterwards. Yes, brilliant. Let's take the kids. They'll love it and I'll enjoy the extra laundry this week."

HA: "It's not just rides you know. They are doing the Birdman Rally today."

Me: "Remind me quickly what that entails?"

HA: "That is when a group of contestants jump off a platform into the river in different contraptions they've built--kind of like costumes but, well, look it's complicated to explain. That's why we should go and see it. The aim is to see how far they can travel in the air before they land in the river."

Me: "Classy."

HA: "Come on, the kids will love it."

Me: "I'll be right with you."

At this point I hit the net and my favourite Melbourne website to find out more about Moomba. According to the City of Melbourne website, there were going to be heaps of family friendly events as part of Moomba. There was an entire area dedicated to free events for the kids including face painting, clowns, arts and crafts as well as a section with rides geared towards the littlies. It was sounding more promising. I liked the possibilities for the kids and I liked the idea of free activities. The Birdman Rally was also going to be running during the afternoon and I knew that would keep the Handsome Australian happy. So I went back to the meeting armed with more facts.

Me: "Okay, we'll go to this Moomba again. There are lots of great activities for the kids apparently."

HA: "See, I told you. Fun for the whole family."

That settled it. We packed up the little people and were off. The drive into the City from our house takes 30 to 40 minutes depending on traffic. While we were driving the Handsome Australian was lamenting about where we'd find a car park in the City. I told him we'd use my favourite City parking garage because it was perfectly located to the action and was relatively unknown. (I don't know why people don't use this particular parking garage because it's so convenient and the rates are reasonable, but it's good for me if it stays quiet! Maybe one day I'll tell you where it is.)

Parking space sorted, we made our way to the Yarra and it wasn't long before we were in the thick of it. The place was buzzing with people. There were families with young children everywhere as well as groups of international students and young teenagers running in packs too. There were lights flashing and music blaring from different gravity defying rides on both sides of the river. Stalls lined the footpath offering food, drinks, information. Creepy clowns leered while their caretakers urged you to have a go 3 balls for $2.

We didn't get sucked in though...

Okay so maybe that's a certain Handsome Australian who can't go past the Beer Can Smash without having a turn. The results were disappointing much to the chagrin of the little people who had visions of giant tacky stuffed toys dancing in their heads.

As Moomba is a Water Festival and uses the Yarra River as its centerpiece, Melbourne Water had a strong representation along one side of the river. We made our first stop in one of their tents where children could make an animal mask using pre-cut materials and simple templates. It was good fun--well my girl and I thought so. The Handsome Australian was busy wrangling the youngest and impatiently waiting. I think he was hoping the Birdman Rally would start soon. My oldest chose to make a fish mask. I think it came out quite well.

Hungry for more craft, the oldest and I slipped next door to ArtPlay where there was meant to be another free craft activity on. (ArtPlay is an initiative by the City of Melbourne to provide opportunities for young people to have access to professional actors and artists who run workshops covering a whole bevy of topics. They've always got something interesting going on and our kids have always enjoyed their workshops.) We put our names down on the list and waited a few minutes for the next session to start. Once it was time, we were shown upstairs where the materials were set out to make a tree frog hat. (Notice the aquatic theme running through the activities?)We spent the next 25 minutes busily constructing the hat. My oldest was pretty pleased with the results.

A finer looking tree frog I've never seen.

At this point, the Handsome Australian was beside himself with angst. He really wanted to get to the edge of the river to score a possie to watch the Birdman Rally. So we left ArtPlay and made our way down to the water. Well, we got as close as we could. Unfortunately, the Rally had already begun and the crowd was very thick. We couldn't see much. The Handsome Australian suggested we put the children on our shoulders so they could see. I reluctantly agreed (I'd like it noted here that the Handsome Australian is a large fellow and chucking a small child on his shoulder's is not a big for me, well, I was having flashes of physio appointments filling my days and maybe a few visits to the chiro for good measure). As the children precariously balanced on our shoulders and we stood on our tip toes, they could see the bizarre people jumping into the river. I could see nothing except a really nice pair of Skechers that kept kicking me in the face. After two contestants had a go, I was buckling under the weight. I expressed my inability to stand there any longer with 5 year old child on my shoulders and the Handsome Australian relented and suggested that perhaps we grab some lunch.

Food snob that he is, he turned his nose up at the "festival food" and insisted that we eat in one of the restaurants in Federation Square. So we made our way up the river to Fed Square and had a look for a kid friendly place. Historically, I haven't had much luck with the restaurants in Fed Square. I think on the whole many are overpriced and there really isn't a place you can get something simple with the kids. Or so I thought...

The Handsome Australian chose Transport Public Bar as our lunch spot.

It was packed with people, presumably all in the city for Moomba as well. He ordered our food at the bar and then waited for our number to be called while the kids and I sussed out a table outside. We finally ended up sharing a table with another family because there was no where else to sit. They were English tourists. A Canadian sat on the table behind us and there were a handful of German backpackers a few tables away. So we found Melbourne's tourist hot spot!!

Lunch was a few plates of fish and chips which the Handsome Australian deemed delicious. The kids enjoyed them too. And we also had a plate of dips to share--the dips received mixed reviews.Personally, I wasn't hugely impressed with our meal. The Handsome Australian indicated this was typical pub fare and was a pretty reasonable standard for such food. I indicated that 1. the key ingredient to a good pub meal was missing--a drink and 2. perhaps I'm not a pub girl. In hindsight, it was probably an easy place to take the kids and the most kid friendly food we were going to find in Fed Square so it wasn't all bad.

After we refueled, we decided to cross the bridge and work our way down the other side of the Yarra where there were still more sections of Moomba to explore. We walked past beach volleyball demonstrations, a blow up soccer pitch, more food, and rides as far as the eye could see. The little people were pulling on our pant legs asking for a turn on some of the rides so we decided they could choose two. The most obvious choice was the Magic Circus which was a three story fun house of sorts. It had all sorts of tricky mirrors, moving sidewalks, funny steps and a twisty slide that spat you out the bottom with an impressive amount of inertia. They loved it.
They followed this up with a ride on a very tame roller coaster that was shaped like a little caterpillar. It was very, very tame. (Read: lame for Mum and Dad, but on the upside not nausea inspiring).

Wow! All that action it was surely time for another food break. The oldest had her eyes on some fairy floss (that's Cotton Candy for the Yanks among you) and the little fella was keen on an icy pole (that's a popsicle). The Handsome Australian and I found a lovely little stall that was selling Byron Bay Organic Donuts. I don't know how they were organic, but somehow sticking the word organic in front of them made them sound hearty and less likely to lead to heart disease. Did I mention they were filled with chocolate? Yes, that was another selling point. So we got a couple to share. We found a spot under a shady tree and took a moment to enjoy our treats. They were delicious. We did a bit of people watching and then decided it was time to pack it in and head home. So we took one last look down the mighty Yarra and headed for the car.

Happy to report a good time was had by all and there was no vomiting. What more can you ask for?


Aussie in the USA said...

I used to love watching the water skiing on the Yarra at Moomba. :)

Oh..and those fish 'n chips looked yummy! I miss Aussie style fish 'n chips...especially the ones from our local 'Fish 'n Chip shop'. *sigh* ;)

suzinoz said...

Yes, we did see a bit of water skiing in between carnival rides.

Fish and Chips were yummy. I can understand your pain in missing them...I miss Mexican food the same way!

Annelise said...

I am so sad that there were not pics taken by you of the Birdman rally. I am not sure that I understand it and therefor I am going to have to link to see what it actually is.
As of now...I will always call Cotton Candy Fairy Floss. Finally the Aussie's coined an excellent name for something...okay not finally...but I can't recall other words that I liked better by them.
Excellent blog HAM. I very much enjoyed it!!
Did you say I need to visit? I totally need to!
A+ on the crafts and that is a grade based on a very extensive rubric.

Florida Girl In Sydney said...

I was so confused for a minute there-- it looked just like Luna park-- the clowns!

suzinoz said...

Sorry there is no photo of the Birdman Rally. I think it was the weight of the five year old on my shoulders and the depth of the crowd that made getting my camera out of my bag and getting a good shot physically impossible. I did't even see the contestants. The five year old did though and she wasn't impressed...and you know she knows what's hip and what isn't so I think we didn't miss much.

FGIS--Are you thinking of Sydney's Luna Park or Melbourne's Luna Park? Did you know there is one in both cities? Now that is confusing.