I’m in deep culturo-anthropo-Melbo shock!! As a kid I attended a couple of Moomba parades circa 1958-59 and in my ignorance I believed Moomba MUST have wound up it’s tawdry self around 1975-ish.

I recently learned that Moomba is STILL a going concern!

A quick glance at the web site tells me that it’s main event is no longer a tacky parade where one could clearly see the wheels of the land rover under the float’s cardboard awnings and you waved little flags at ‘Moomba Kings’ like Johnny Famechon and Lou Richards and ‘Moomba Queens’ like Twinkle Toes Helpmann, Frank Thring & Bert – oh no, since 2003 it’s been re-badged as ‘Melbourne Moomba Waterfest’!?

‘Only in Melbourne’ I mutter to myself but then cheer up a lot as I learn that the word ‘Moomba’ literally means ‘Up Your Bum’ in indigenous Koori lingo. Apparently this cracking good joke was swallowed whole by the Melbourne Council which endorsed ‘Moomba’ as the name for this jolly old festival back in 1954. “Moom” means buttocks or anus in several Victorian Koori languages, and the suffix “-ba” can mean at, in or on. The ignorant white City Council were prepared to believe that one word, suggested by an aboriginal elder, meant “let’s get together and have fun”. It’s been the catchphrase of the festival ever since.

In 1951, Australia celebrated fifty years of Federation with a parade and the staging of the theatre production “An Aboriginal Moomba: Out of the Dark”. In 1954 Lizzie visited Melbourne for the first time as ‘Queen’ and this inspired the City Council to propose an autumn carnival to be known as “Moomba”, starting on Labour Day. Moomba was originally opened in 1955 by none other than then Governor, Sir Dallas Brooks. He of course went on to the grand fame of having a hall named after himself in Melbourne.

The first Moomba parade in 1955 was led by ….

the towering symbol of Moomba – a one toothed bulbous eyed, puffed up 7’6″ balloon with smaller balloons for eyes, nose and ears. There is nothing quite like him, organisers say, outside a happy nightmare. (The Argus, 10 March 1955)

Here’s a pic of the happily nightmarish, inflated reprobate designed to fill us kiddies with joy.

Other 1955 parade highlights were:

  • The Melbourne Judo Club float which will …‘show just how easy it is to throw people around’.
  • A State Electricity Commission float featuring a velvet lined rose covered shell on a wartime tank transporter.
  • More than 150 youngsters playing banjos from the float of the Melbourne Banjo Club.

Now here’s a pic of the 1958 Moomba Parade I went to as a 6 year old.

The Kodak Brownie snap clearly depicts the excitement as ‘float’ 47 (a fabulous Vespa Club affair with a fairy princess followed by a dozen blokes in green dust coats with green cones attached to their Vespa’s) sweeping down Bourke Street and rounding the corner into Swanny Street. Note how the fever pitch is maintained by the next entry which appears to be a couple of kids from Frankston with a banner, then, another 50 yards back, a big cardboard box towed by a tractor! Now that’s Moomba as I recall it.

Now witness a pic of Moomba 2014.

An un-numbered float depicting 3 Ringo Starrs followed by some American style cheerleaders. Bugger me! They’re not even in Bourke Street! I can clearly see the Shrine Of Embarrassment in the background – which means they’re on St.Kilda Road!! What the hell are they doing OUT THERE??

One cheery moment for this grumpy old man came with the cynical realisation that I can still see the wheels of the truck underneath the plastic awning!


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