Multicultural Festival has the right booze balance
Food and Wine Frolic
Colin Shepard, left, Michale Blumenfeld, in the shopping trolley, and Scott MacGregor, right all of Holt, had a novel mode of transport at the Canberra Festival Food and Wine Frolic. Photo: ACT Heritage Library/Canberra Times collection.
The Australian Hotels Association might have self interest at heart with its calls for a stricter alcohol service regime - or a complete booze ban - at the National Multicultural Festival.
The AHA has backed up its argument that responsible service of alcohol should be mandatory for stallholders, as it is for licensed venues, with claims of alcohol being served to minors and spirits being offered cheap.
These contrast with, if not contradict, glowing reports from the police and government about the event.
Social media was buzzing on Friday and Saturday nights about the "best ever" festival, and even on the quieter Sunday afternoon, there was a rare atmosphere about it.
I haven't heard complaints about unruly behaviour, although a colleague noted the event "seemed a bit boozier" than in years before.
But while they may be overblown, the AHA's claims should at least remind Canberra that in the festival it has a good thing going, and how fragile the success of these things can be.
The Food and Wine Frolic in Commonwealth Park was a big deal in the city in the 1980s and 90s.
Starting out as a festival where food and wine lovers could sample the fare of the region's restaurants and wineries, over time it morphed into a bacchanal - the "alcoholic frolic".
Like a lot of events in the 1980s, booze was BYO and big-haired, stone-washed-jeans wearing Canberrans brought plenty.
In 1994 then Canberra Times staff writer Crispin Hull described how the frolic "transmogrified many patrons from a high state of consciousness into unconsciousness and indeed back to wallow in the primoridal slime of rubbish and drink leftovers on the lawn."
The newspaper's archival photos of the time hint at the vibe of the day, albeit those pictured are probably for the most part having a good, harmless day out.
Recognising the event had become a bad drunk, the organisers brought in stricter alcohol measures to restore the event as a family friendly activity.
BYO booze was banned, as were pets, in what some called the "rehabilitation" of the frolic.
But it never quite recovered its reputation and was dropped from the calendar in 2000, without much fanfare, two years after the Canberra Festival merged with the National Multicultural Festival.
The frolic's death spiral began because it lost control of alcohol and many didn't want a part of it.
It finally disappeared from Canberra life when those who had enjoyed turning up for it found tighter new regulations a kill joy.
The National Multicultural Festival doesn't suffer from either malady.
It is not stumbling along a haze of grog, despite what you might infer from the AHA's calls for an alcohol ban.
Nor is so oppressively regulated that people feel unable to have a good time there with friends.
Long may this colourful weekend, that projects so well our diversity as a city, stay this way.
Let's hope it never goes the way of the frolic.