MORE than 8000 people enjoyed the wide range of entertainment and activities at Saturday’s record-breaking Meeniyan Garlic Festival.
For the third year in a row the Meeniyan community has delivered a fun festival, that draws visitors from across the region and beyond. Live music on three stages, workshops, talks, contests, cooking demonstrations and 100 stalls kept visitors on the move to explore the offerings.
It is estimated that up to 50 per cent travelled from Melbourne, following a promotional campaign into metropolitan markets, enabled by funding from Visit Victoria’s Regional Events Fund.
As one happy mum from Narre Warren said, “This has been the best day out, the kids have had an absolute ball with the games on the oval while I’ve been tasting an amazing collection of delicious food that I didn’t even know existed… including garlic ice cream and garlic beer!”
“We’re heading home with some freshly harvested garlic. I want to cook with it and the kids want to plant it in our veggie patch!”
A popular addition this year was the ‘Sheaf Toss’, generously sponsored by local seed potato grower, Roy Beaumont. The ‘Toss’ joins a long list of traditional events that evoke nostalgia from the elders who liken the festival to an old-fashioned Sunday School picnic.
“I doubt if anyone over 40 wasn’t in a billy cart, a sack or three-legged race or did a vegetable sculpture as a kid,” said organiser David Jones.
“So, it’s fun to share the experience with friends and family.”
David said the success of the festival “goes way beyond the committee”.
“The local sports clubs, the retailers, the sponsors and residents – they’re all such great ambassadors and get behind this annual event,” he said.
“We have over 120 volunteers on the day and a highly organised committee of 15 who meet and plan for six months of the year. We love to see the increased crowds but our main focus is still to deliver a great visitor experience for all ages – from vintage tractors for grandad to Storytime for two-year-olds.
“Every member of our Committee plays an important role in the delivery of the Festival. However, we are privileged to have members with amazing talents and incredible dedication to the project.”
One of these is retired Meeniyan engineer John Hattam – a widely respected leader in the community who quietly pulls resources together in the most remarkable way. Setting up for the festival is a tightly managed three-day logistics program.
After months of planning, John draws in dozens of helpers, an array of tandem trailers and, hour by hour, the Rec Reserve is transformed. The ‘big reveal’ happens on Saturday morning. Separate teams manage the arrival of 100 stallholders and the set-up process, the arrival and ticketing of more than 8000 patrons is led by Leongatha Rotary Club and John brings in a further team at 4.00pm to dismantle the 50 marquees, pack up the 200 sandbags, 500 seats, signage and all the pieces of the festival jigsaw. John really is the linchpin of the festival. There’s not a local marquee, generator or haybale that he doesn’t know how to procure, and he does it with no fanfare, ably supported by a great team including his wife Lisa. (He even did it this year with one arm in a sling!)
Sally Gorman is another. She heads up the Activities Program and delivers an incredible array of activities for all ages and abilities. It is a real joy to see old and young visitors riding or pushing billy carts around the time trial circuit, making veggie sculptures and having a fun on the field.
Sally’s work emerges weeks before the festival, engaging families to come together and make colourful scarecrows to decorate the main street from January onwards. These are a popular hit with travellers passing through.
There are too many others to name but who also contribute so significantly.
“We’d also like to thank Meeniyan residents for their support, and also their tolerance of the town packed with visitors which can make a quick run to the supermarket a little challenging on the day,” David said. “We trust the huge economic flow on to southern Gippsland and the happy mood more than makes up for the inconvenience.”