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Moomba Festival

Advertising Label - Melbourne Moomba Festival, 1960

Image: Advertising Label - Melbourne Moomba Festival, 1960

Source: Museum Victoria

Moomba is one of Melbourne's longest running festivals which is run under the auspices of the City of Melbourne. Moomba is celebrated during the Labour Day long weekend (the first Friday to the second Monday in March), and has been held annually since 1955. In 2003, the event was renamed Melbourne Moomba Waterfest, with most activities centred around the Yarra River.

Its origins date back to 1951, when Melbourne celebrated fifty years of Federation with a parade and the staging of the theatre production 'An Aboriginal Moomba: Out of the Dark'. The following year, the final Labour Day procession was held in Melbourne after running for almost a century. In 1954, Queen Elizabeth II visited the city in her first appearance as reigning monarch, bringing thousands of people to the CBD. The City Development Association and the Melbourne City Council saw the potential in an annual celebration which could do the same, and proposed the Moomba Festival. The first festival was officially opened in 1955.

A parade through the streets of central Melbourne have been a key part of the Moomba festival since its beginning. The floats have an annual theme, usually an elaboration on 'Let's get together and have fun', the avowed mission and vision statement of Moomba. In the beginning the floats usually promoted a Commercial or Government organisation, but in later years, as business became more reluctant to spend money on elaborate floats, they tended to represent sporting clubs, ethnic groups and other community organisations.

In recent years there has been great debate on the actual meaning of the word 'Moomba'. The official translation was always believed to be 'let's get together and have fun.' In 1981 Barry Blake in his Australian Aboriginal Languages spelled out the etymology in more detail:

'Undoubtedly the most unfortunate choice of a proper name from Aboriginal sources was made in Melbourne when the city fathers chose to name the city's annual festival 'Moomba'. The name is supposed to mean 'Let's get together and have fun', though one wonders how anyone could be naive enough to believe that all this can be expressed in two syllables. In fact 'moom' (mum) means 'buttocks' or 'anus' in various Victorian languages and 'ba' is a suffix that can mean 'at', 'in' or 'on'. Presumably someone has tried to render 'up your bum' in the vernacular.'

Furthermore, in 1969, Luise Hercus provided the following definition for 'mum' (i.e., 'moom') in The Languages of Victoria:

'Mum: bottom, rump. The jocular Healesville expression 'mum ba' - 'bottom and . . .' - has been given to the authorities in jest with the translation 'let us get together and have fun', hence the Melbourne Moomba Festival.'

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