For many small, country towns Easter is one of the most important weekends of the year. This has little or nothing to do with the religious aspects of the season, but is closely related to the fact that Easter is just about the last opportunity these places have, to entertain visitors and attract a little money to the town, before pretty well everything closes down for the winter, especially when it’s a year when the holy weekend is close the latest it can be in the church calendar, with this year as a good example.
The small town of Yarram, in South Gippsland is a good example. Here, every year a major event takes place in the life of the town. It’s called the Tarra Festival, it involves many local people and it attracts about ten thousand visitors, some of whom come every year, and have been doing so for a long time!
The actual weekend commences on Good Friday evening, though actual preparations will have been going on, almost since last Easter. The first event is the opening of the Rotary Art Show, one of the biggest happenings of the weekend, with over two hundred paintings on display, from both local and visiting artists. The exhibition has a rather enviable reputation for usually selling about ten per cent of the paintings on display, no mean feat for any exhibition, anywhere!
Saturday is the main day of the Festival, with a parade through the shopping street at eleven in the morning, featuring, as in many towns, floats created by local schools, the Health Service, fire service, ambulance and anyone else who is prepared to make up a float. This is the time that the visitors are most visible, because virtually all of them line the street for the spectacle, visit the local shops, pop in the pubs for a beer or grab their spot on the kerb, to get the best view of the parade. They tend to spread out after that, visiting the various items of interest on display everywhere. Saturday morning is also the time when Rotary have cray spins, various performers, hired by the Festival Committee put on their acts and the Lions club rush around handing out flyers to everyone, advertising their major activity, about to take place in the afternoon, which has for many years been a ‘mixed sport’ event, including horse racing, kids sports, beer barrel throwing, beer drinking and barbeque food. For both the Lions and Rotary, Easter weekend is their major fund raising effort, giving them the money to churn back into the community during the rest of the year.
Throughout the whole weekend there are also numerous ‘fringe’ events taking place, displays of quilting, at least two other art exhibitions, (more local, and smaller than the Rotary one), ‘Pancakes in the Park’ on Sunday and a large open-air market at the recreation ground on Easter Monday.
Everything about these Easter weekends tend to be simple, country pleasures, which some would describe as out-of-date and old-fashioned, but it seems quite significant to me that a major proportion of the people who descend on Yarram are from Melbourne and the several other bigger towns in this part of the world. Perhaps it is the very ‘old-fashioned-ness’ of it that attracts these people, a sharp contrast to the rather stressed lives they live for the rest of the year. For three or four days they can just relax and ‘take-it-easy’, with the added bonus, in the case of Yarram, that they are also only a few kilometres from Port Albert, Ninety-Mile Beach and Tarra-Bulga National Park, all well worth a visit if the high life of the Festival gets too exciting!
I hope the Tarra Festival and the many others just like it, all over Australia, continue to entertain us for many years to come, they are an important part of country life and we would all be the sadder if they should cease to exist.
What are your Easter traditions? Tell us in the comments below…