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Opinion: A Tale of Two Festivals

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By: Zografos Zappas

Both Sydney and Melbourne, Australia’s biggest Hellenic cities, launched their Greek Festivals last weekend to the fanfare of food, music and entertainment. For well over 30 year these festivals have delivered to the Hellenic community a sense of pride, and a display of everything that is Greek.  We must ask, “how true are these Festivals to the reality that is the Australian Greek population today?”

It is now over 100 years since the first wave of immigrants made their way to Australia. It is over 60 years since the second and biggest wave of immigrants arrived in Australia in the 1950’s and 1960’s to begin a new life here.  In the past 5 years we have seen a third, albeit, smaller and younger wave of immigrants arrive in Australia, fleeing from the austerity in Greece. The Hellenic melting pot now comprises Hellenes of first generation to fourth and some fifth generation Hellenes spread across the entire country. An eclectic collage of Hellenism.

Melbourne, with its much bigger Hellenic population, outgunned the Sydney Festival, and again this year it appears Melbourne has rolled out a serious rebranded Antipodes Festival designed to appeal to the cross section of generations and deliver for the broader Australian community. With over 90 stalls filled with food, Greek products, children’s books, even coffee machines, 3 entertainment stages, children’s rides and activities and multiple bars they turned Lonsdale Street into a mini Greece, attracting over 150,000 visitors over the two days. 

Ethnic festivals are there to showcase a culture to the wider community; to showcase all aspects of that culture from the food, music, talent and identity. The Sydney Festival failed.

The launch of the Sydney Festival was lackluster to say the least, with the (groan) Sponsor dinner last Thursday night, and a repeat of the sponsor dinner (at lunch time) on Sunday on beautiful Sydney Harbour.  Tempting treats for the Sponsors. All the while Tumbalong Park in Darling Harbour was treading water. Audiences were thin on the ground, mainly the parents of the various dance groups, and passing by visitors to Sydney.   

Sunday, the peak day delivered the Big Greek Day Out Music Festival Benefit for Children of the Fires from 12 noon, with some stellar music performances from our talent pool of awesome Australian Greek performers. This was a last minute initiative of Tom Christopoulos, Jim Tsolakis and George Doukas, who approached the Greek Festival to use the stage for a fundraiser since it was not being used during the day.

Audiences were generally weak, with the Festival attracting no more than 8,000 people over the 2 days. 

So what went wrong Sydney?  Looking from the outside we can only speculate, but it is clear the organisers of the “Greek Fest” have failed to innovate and accommodate to the changing Hellenic scene in Sydney. With just 5 food stalls, a coffee stall, a single bar with a fence, and several product stalls, the Festival limited its aim and diminished its returns.

Location is complex and difficult. Yes, there are 40 days of events planned, each of which should be supported by the community through their attendance, but it is the launch that matters, that makes the difference, that creates the colour and embraces the entire Hellenic community.

The organisers failed to market the event, with media statements going out 1 week before, not taken up by any media, not even the Greek media. The gig guide was delivered just 1 week before the commencement of the Festival.  The Festivals social media marketing was amateur (the old website was still up).  

With Sydney’s burgeoning population of Greeks in the western suburbs thirsting for Greek culture, the Festival failed to reach out to these Hellenes, with most unaware of the Festival.  

The one sweet spot was the live performance from Giota Negka in the evening. Little known in Australia, Negka wowed the audiences with her powerful voice and magical songs.

The rivalry between these two great cities continues even into the Hellenic community. In review, it is fair to say that Sydney needs to embrace an overhaul of its Festival, a renewal that will attract a broader cross section of Hellenes from all parts of wider Sydney. A renewal that will showcase the Hellenic culture in all its colours; that will showcase Australian Greek talent and deliver to the community the sense of pride and union it deserves and yearns. Innovation and marketing that will deliver better returns to its generous sponsors continued support.

The Sydney Greek festival is tired and a fresh approach with new ideas is needed. 

* it should also be mentioned Brisbane, Adelaide and Canberra do a great job even with a smaller Greek community and have made the effort to get non Greeks attending as a fun day out!

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