Melbourne soaks up the sun at Moomba
More than 120,000 people attend Moomba.PT0M0S 620 349
WHAT was it Wordsworth wrote - ''I wandered lonely as a crowd''? He must have tweeted that (using his iQuill, no doubt) while stuck in a hansom cab on his way home from the Moomba parade, an event seemingly designed for the sole purpose of turning jolly humanists into agoraphobic misanthropes.
It is surely one of the cruellest jokes in civic lore that Melbourne's rival to Sydney's Mardi Gras, to London's Notting Hill Carnival, to Rio's Carnivale is sold as a fun day out for the whole family. Unless, of course, standing on a footpath looking at the back of someone's head is your family's idea of fun.
Stuck in a pedestrian traffic snarl that didn't so much snake as snail its way from Federation Square to the southern end of the National Gallery of Victoria on St Kilda Road, all those parents with strollers looked to be having an absolute ball. No, really. Maybe it was the sunstroke.
2012 Moomba Parade
Thousands of people lined St Kilda Road to watch a procession of floats, dancers and street performers in the Moomba parade celebrating community, food and culture through the theme 'Melbourne is delicious' as part of the Melbourne Moomba Festival. Photo: Paul Rovere
What a pity, then, that the parade didn't get anywhere near the stretch of pavement that so many thousands had occupied in the mistaken belief they might catch a glimpse of some dancing morsel in this food-and-drink themed celebration. News that the route had been truncated as the result of ''improvements'' to Swanston Street seemed not to have filtered this far north.
The kids, meanwhile, were soaking up the atmosphere. ''I can't see,'' came the cry from knee height. ''I've lost my hat,'' said one shoulder-astride toddler. ''I'm hungry.''
Sam and Vicki had made their way in from Prahran to be part of it all, with young tacker safely strapped out of view's way in a stroller. ''I've watched it on TV for 40 years but this is the first time I've actually been to Moomba,'' said Vicki. ''I thought it would be good to bring the little one.''
Moomba king and queen Harry Kewell and Natalie Bassingthwaighte. Photo: Simon O'Dwyer
They were enjoying themselves, even though they'd missed the parade of floats and had no idea the king and queen of Moomba were soccer player Harry Kewell and actor-singer-TV presenter Natalie Bassingthwaighte. ''That guy?'' asked Sam in something close to disgust when informed that his Harryness had been coronated (with a crown fashioned from half a soccer ball, no less). Bassingthwaighte, though, got the thumbs up. ''She's all right. They're a pretty pair at least.''
That split of opinion was echoed around town, fuelled by news that King Harry had cancelled his planned media appearances that morning at short notice. Not in his contract? Awestruck by the occasion? Not much chop at public speaking? No one expects the Agincourt speech, Harry; would it really have hurt so much to pop into The Circle?
The parade itself was headed by a couple of cars bearing Wurundjeri elders; it may not be official state government protocol to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land any longer, but the City of Melbourne is still playing nice.
Next came the Melbourne Dai Loong Association's entry, not a float so much as a ruddy great dragon. Since 1978, this volunteer group has been presenting a Dai Loong (big dragon) for Melbourne's enjoyment, and this one was a doozy, a 60-legged beast of a thing.
Male, too, if this from the association's website is to be believed: ''For males, there are positions for Dragon Legs, Head and Tail Carriers (strong guys!), Weapon and Banner Carriers. For females, there are Lanterns and Animals to carry.''
Further back there were people dressed as grapes and others wearing cones on their heads. There were penny farthings, a tractor covered in flowers and shrubs, and a gigantic blow-up Guy Grossi (not, we trust, as if to suggest the affable restaurateur has an inflated opinion of himself). There was an ancient fire engine, a horse and cart, and the Moom-Bar, a mock cafe on which John Safran was performing barista duties.
The radio and TV personality admitted he'd never pulled a coffee in a professional capacity before, but he wasn't fazed. ''The fact that people really haven't come to see me at all makes this actually pretty relaxing,'' he said.
Still, there was one potentially nervy moment. ''I had to wear a safety harness,'' Safran said. ''And the guy who was attaching it to me told me I'd punked him about 10 years ago on [TV series] Music Jamboree.'' Revenge, like iced coffee, is a dish best served cold, but the punkee was a forgiving type: Safran's harness held.
By 11.40am, the parade had finished its short journey from the Shrine of Remembrance to Southbank Boulevard and the floats were parking opposite the gallery. As a couple of licorices in pink, yellow and black stripes wandered past, a man muttered, ''It takes all sorts''. A fellow wandered up the street carrying a massive carrot. ''Were you in the parade?'' someone asked. ''No, just taking it for a stroll,'' Carrot Man replied chirpily. Pull the other legume, mate.
Back in the St Kilda Road parking lot, a flatbed full of food items was getting jiggy to Kool and the Gang's Celebration. Right behind, the royal float bearing Kewell and the gang was coming to a halt.
Queen Nat leant out from her throne towards the wiremesh, stretching to stroke the hands of her faithful subjects. King Harry stayed in his seat, determined to keep the old good-monarch-bad monarch thing going.
Finally, he got off his throne, stepped down into the street and waved. To lord mayor Robert Doyle. He's a true man of the people, that Harry.
Karl Quinn is on Twitter: @karlkwin