Saturday, March 24, 2012

Altona Beach Festival 2012

Altona Beach Festival 2013 Program

The Altona Beach Festival or its predecessor the Altona Bayside Festival is traditionally held in March, one week after the Labor Day long weekend. This year it is held a week earlier on the 10th of March 2012, concurrently with the Moomba Festival. With only localized and limited publicity, I thought this scheduling may affect the turnout as some people may opt to visit the much more renowned Moomba Festival.



When I arrived at Logan Reserve at around 10.45 a.m., the sky was downcast and there was only a handful of patrons. But with the sky clearing by midday, the number of visitors started to swell as indicated by a continuous stream of cars along Queen Street. I think the turnout is not affected by the Moomba Festival and the number of visitors is just right. There are a lot of people but there are still ample spaces to move around. We also do not need to wait very long for popular activities such as the Giant Slide.

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In contrast, when we visited the Birdman Rally the following day, we found Princes Bridge to be so thronged with people that one could only move forwards at snail pace. By the time we reached the south bank of the Yarra River in Alexandra Gardens opposite the Birdman's stage at 1.30 p.m., the rally had ended earlier than it was scheduled. Hence, the Altona Beach Festival can provide a good alternative to the Moomba Festival for people, especially those living in the west, to spend the long weekend. There are not as many people and without the queues and crowds, we get to enjoy the activities more.

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Frankly speaking, the Beach Festival is a greatly scaled-down version of the Bayside Festival which was held over 3 days. This is an inevitable consequence of tighter council budget. To offset the cost, the local “Summer Sounds” concert featuring the Black Sorrows was incorporated into the Festival (Ref 1). The Bayside Festival was held across two main venues, at Grant Reserve near Cherry Lake and at Logan Reserve while the Beach Festival was located primarily at Logan Reserve. Both arrangements have their pros and cons. The Bayside Festival would have appeared grander as it involves more activities in more locations. However, due to the considerable walking distance between Logan Reserve and Grant Reserve, visitors became scattered between the two locations. The Altona Beach Festival concentrates the activities at one location, which helps to pool the resources together and enables easy accessibility to all activities. Consequently, the focal point becomes stronger and a larger crowd contributing to the festive atmosphere can be sustained throughout the day. The beach also provides a great backdrop, particularly for those first-time visitors to Altona.

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However, this approach also brings about a number of problems. First of all, there are a lot of unpaved parking spaces around Grant Reserve. This is not so near Logan Reserve, presenting difficulties of finding parking spaces for those who come by cars. Secondly, Logan Reserve itself is restricted in space so unlike Grant Reserve, it cannot accommodate monstrous-sized children play stations. You may have observed that the two large-scale children play equipments were chosen to overcome the space constraints. The Climbing Wall extends vertically while the Giant Slide while long is narrow. Hence, both could be shifted to the Esplanade where they fit perfectly. Two other key elements of the Festival, that is, the Classic Car Show and the Street Parade also face similar space constraints. While the Grant Reserve is sufficiently large to accommodate dozens of classic cars, it is impossible to put these cars into or around Logan Reserve. The solution is to host the Classic Car Show separately at Apex Park. Apex Park being very large, does not impose space constraints. An unexpected consequence of this decision is the dramatic increase in the number of participating cars. I would say the Classic Car Show has grown faster than the Festival. I will elaborate on the Classic Car Show at a later post with more photos. Here is a video for your preview.



A large number of groups had participated in the Grand Parade at previous Bayside Festivals. A logistics issue is where to assemble large number of contingents before the parade and disperse them in an orderly manner at the end. This is not so much a problem with the old route, where the parade starts off at Logan Reserve along Pier St and ends at Grant Reserve/Cherry Lake, which has large grounds and ample parking spaces for the participating vehicles. The best vantage point is at the Civic Pde/Pier St roundabout in front of the Council Civic Chambers. After the parade, the street audience will then proceed to the festive ground at Grant Reserve for other activities.



Sticking with this route will not be feasible with the Beach Festival. Festival goers will be required to walk a considerable distance from the southern end of Pier St at Logan Reserve to the northern end at the Civic Pde roundabout to have the best view of the Parade and then walk back to Logan Reserve to partake in other activities. The parade participants will have to do likewise. Hence, the street parade route is changed to the Esplanade starting from Ransom Reserve (where there are ample grounds and parking lots) and ending at Logan Reserve. However, Logan Reserve does not have enough parking spaces for the participating vehicles. Hence, we can see that there is a drastic reduction in the number of participating teams, in particular vehicles. The parking lots fronting Logan Reserve across the beach were reserved for these vehicles.

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The timing of the parade is also changed from noon (around 11 a.m.) to about 5.30-6 p.m. This allows the Climbing Wall, Giant Slide and other stalls to operate on the Esplanade until about 4 p.m., after which they are dismantled to make way for the Parade. I wish to make suggestions about the Parade. First, the direction is wrong. With the Parade coming from the west, we are looking directly into the setting sun, which is really uncomfortable and could not see the Parade clearly. The organizer may wish to consider assembling the Parade at Cresser Reserve on the east (there are also ample spaces there) and marching westwards to Pier St along the Esplanade. This is however a longer route. I also miss the grandeur of the old Parade so I hope it will be restored to its former scale.

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Bendigo Bank has always been a strong supporter of community events. Every year, it sponsors the Cobb & Co and Cinderella horse wagon rides during Australia Day as well as the Historic Double Decker Bus Tours of Altona during the Altona Beach Festival. I wish to compliment the Bus Tour event this year. I am pleasantly surprised to discover the tour journey time has substantially increased compared to past years, extending to Altona Coastal Park at the eastern end and to Apex Park at the western end. My little son has enjoyed the bus ride so much that he refused to get down.

What makes the Altona Beach Festival and other local events so attractive to us is their focus on family activities. There are so many activities catered towards children. Besides the Giant Slide and Climbing Wall, there is the very interesting and innovative "robotic animal feeding farm" or whatever it is called, which features an one-eyed monster and a gigantic pile of mobile cow dung. There are also children arts workshops in the Senior Citizens Club and free balloon sculptures. The food stalls are quite interesting as well. We have tried the Dutch pancakes and something called the Twisty Pud shown in the photo below.

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The Festival ended with a spectacular display of fireworks over Altona Beach.



According to this news report, the Hobsons Bay Council said that it has allocated $20,000 to Altona Beach Festival, $20,000 to Williamstown Festival, $10,000 to Laverton Festival and a shared pool of $45,000 for all 3 festivals. It said that it could not afford to operate the Altona Beach Festival as an annual event. Hence, the Altona Beach Festival faces an uncertain future, despite its popularity. One strategy is to follow the example of other festivals in seeking more commercial sponsorships (outside of the local area) to support the continued viability of the Festival.

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