ACT News

2016 National Multicultural Festival in Canberra marks 20 years of food, dance and fun

Could it really be 20 years?

Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry with Chilean community identity, Victor Marillanca, left, and performers.
Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry with Chilean community identity, Victor Marillanca, left, and performers. Photo: Graham Tidy

Some Brazilian energy, Chinese beauty and a fair whack of chocolate cake marked the launch on Thursday of the 20th anniversary of the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra – that celebration of food, dance and music from around the world.

The 2016 festival starts next Friday, February 12 and continues until Sunday, February 14, with The Black Sorrows the headline act.

2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra.
2016 marks the 20th anniversary of the National Multicultural Festival in Canberra. Photo: Rohan Thomson

The opening concert will run mainly at Garema Place from 4.30pm to midnight on February 12 with The Black Sorrows joined by performers including Bollywood dancers, an Aboriginal cultural showcase and Kulture Break featuring Paulini.

The other venues for the opening concert are Ainslie Avenue where there will be a Malaysian showcase from 3.30pm to midnight, and at Civic Square which will have performers including The Beez and La Rumba from 5.15pm to 10.15pm.

More than 270,000 people are expected to flock to Civic over the weekend for a welcome assault on the senses with food from French crepes to Thai curry, music from rockabilly to African drumming and dancing from the Pacific Islands to Bollywood.

Multicultural Affairs Minister Yvette Berry said there would be more than 400 stalls representing more than 170 nationalities. There would be 350 performance groups and 2500 performers. A total of 7.5 kilometres of bunting was now erected throughout the city to herald the event.

Wei Chen, of Watson, one of the dancers at the launch of the National Multicultural Festival.
Wei Chen, of Watson, one of the dancers at the launch of the National Multicultural Festival. Photo: Graham Tidy

The festival had its origins in the mid-1970s. But the first national festival officially began in 1996. It is estimated last year's event injected $7.8 million into the ACT economy.

Ms Berry on Thursday launched the festival during a special preview event in Civic, where she also cut a 20th birthday cake to mark two decades of "our nation's grandest celebration of cultural diversity".

Aussie icons The Black Sorrows are the headline act at this year's National Multicultural Festival.
Aussie icons The Black Sorrows are the headline act at this year's National Multicultural Festival. 

Dancers from the Kokoloco dance studio in feathers and sequins as well as traditional and contemporary Chinese dancers added some pizzazz to the proceedings.

Ms Berry said the festival had humble beginnings.

Kokoloco Dance Sudio performers  Becky Fleming, left, and Millie Sutherland Saines, at the launch of the 2016 National ...
Kokoloco Dance Sudio performers Becky Fleming, left, and Millie Sutherland Saines, at the launch of the 2016 National Multicultural Festival. Photo: Graham Tidy

"The ethnic community here in the ACT started coming together celebrating our diversity and then 20 years ago it evolved into a much bigger production to the national multicultural festival which we are experiencing and celebrating today," she said.

The festival has long been held in Civic with locations including Garema Place, Ainslie Avenue, Civic Square and Alinga Street.

Its popularity has resulted in huge crowds at some venues but Ms Berry said there was no need to move to a bigger location.

"We always talk to the community about what their expectations are and how we can keep improving on our festival every year and everybody is pretty happy about keeping it in the city, keeping that diversity and excitement and that sort of hustle and bustle happening," she said.

"We'll continue to take feedback from the community about what's the best way to celebrate our diversity but at the moment we're having such enormous success with the multicultural festival."

The festival was a huge boon for the economy, the minister said.

"About $8 million [generated] over three days [last year] which is actually more than Floriade does in three weeks. Not that we're competing with Floriade at all," she said, with a laugh.

"It's critical for us to celebrate our diversity and our city's multicultural history but it also brings such terrific tourism and economic benefits to the ACT. Many of the hundreds of thousands of people who come to the multicultural festival come from outside the city and we welcome that."

During the launch preview event, Ms Berry also unveiled the 2016 National Multicultural Festival program guide.

"[The guide] is the road map to all the fantastic showcases, food, free entertainment and cultural experiences festival-goers can enjoy over the course of the weekend.

Among the dancers from the ACT Chinese Australia Association at Thursday's launch was 70-year-old Wei Chen of Watson who had more spring in her step than someone half her age.

She plans to bring her two grandchildren to the festival where they will also be able to see her perform, wait for it, a sword dance.

"They like it," she said, with a twinkle in her eye.

The multicultural festival will run 4pm to midnight Friday, February 12, 11am to midnight Saturday, February 13 and 11am to 6pm Sunday, February 14.

The official program guide is at the National Multicultural Festival website at multiculturalfestival.com.au