BY BEN HABIB.
Carnivale is by far my favourite annual community event in Wodonga.
I thoroughly enjoyed the energy and acrobatics of the Asanti Dance Theatre and their pulsating African drums. The Verchovyna Ukrainian Dance Ensemble remined me of my Ukrainian cultural heritage; I’ve seen pictures of my mother wearing exactly the same traditional costume when she was younger. Carlitos’ Way played some catchy latin tunes and provided the energy for my son to go crazy on his slushie-induced sugar high. Richard Perso‘s folk rock grooves were captivating, as were the Romani gypsy sounds of Vardos. And of course my son and I had a great time strolling down High Street and waving at the crowd during the street parade.
Wodonga City Council promotes Carnivale in a utilitarian way: “Carnivale aims to foster the creative capacity of the community, celebrate our identity and connect and contribute to the profile of Wodonga.” The economic benefits of Carnivale are great for the town, but there are intangible benefits that are far more important.
Carnivale is humanising because it puts a positive human face on people from other countries, in contrast to the common charicatures of foreigners that predominate in the popular media and elsewhere. This humanising function is especially important in a regional centre like Albury-Wodonga because of the often toxic mix of social conservatism, lack of exposure to other cultures and outright bigotry that often can be found in places like this.
Watching my three year old son dance up a storm on the dance floor with dozens of other kids and taking in the thoughtful artwork produced by school children from around Wodonga, one can’t help but be marvelled at the precious alternative cultural experience that Carnivale provides for kids and young people. There’s nothing like the power of music to erase the superficial barriers of skin colour and ethnicity that too often divide people.
As the ‘Harmony’ theme of this year’s Carnivale alludes, members of the global family have so much more in common than we realise. Events like Carnivale can help people to reach this realisation, especially when their opportunities for cross-cultural interaction are limited.
If we follow the theme of social cohesion further, one has to love the idea of shutting off High Street to cars and letting people take over. Australian towns and cities have become car-centric, at the expense of other inhabitants of the street scape. I’m always struck by the vibrant atmosphere that exists in towns and cities overseas where cars do not dominate the streets, where street life is enhanced by buskers, street vendors, outdoor cafes and entertainment. These urban landscapes are much safer because there are more people walking around, paying close attention to everything around them. For one night at least, we get that intoxicating atmosphere in Wodonga.
I extend my heartfelt thanks to Wodonga City Council, the sponsors and everyone involved in organising Wodonga Carnivale, as well as the wonderful performers who put on a great show. I also want to give a big round of applause to the people of Wodonga and Albury who attended Carnivale and helped to provide the dynamic atmosphere that makes the event so great.
Dr. Benjamin Habib is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at La Trobe University, Albury-Wodonga. Ben’s research project projects include North Korea’s motivations for nuclear proliferation, East Asian security, international politics of climate change, and undergraduate teaching pedagogy. He also teaches in Australian politics and the international relations of the Middle East. Ben undertook his PhD candidature at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, and has worked previously for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. He has spent time teaching English in Dandong, China, and has also studied at Keimyung University in Daegu, South Korea. Ben is involved with local community groups Wodonga and Albury Toward Climate Health (WATCH) and Transition Albury-Wodonga.
Ben welcomes constructive feedback. Please comment below, or contact Ben at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The views in this story are those of the author and not necessarily those of Our Voice: Politics Albury-Wodonga.
Totally agree with pedestrianised plazas, piazzas, boulevards and streets. Oxford in England has a wonderful long, main street for pedestrians, full of buskers and shoppers too. Brilliant! What a smart city!!! Both the Greeks and Romans closed off their respective agoras and fora to wheeled traffic during the day. It’s not a new idea but we do need a ‘rebirth’ or Renaissance in urban planning based on world trends.
Couldn’t agree more Ron, an Australian urban design Renaissance is definately needed.
I’ve been visiting Wodonga for nearly 20 years, and lived here for last 11 years. When I first saw the High St stretch from railway to Water tower it seemed logical to make it into pedestrian zone. Apart from the one attempt by placemaker David Engwicht employed by council for a short time (and subsequently sacked as it became apparent that the conservative spirit was winning) there was never an innovative change – despite the annual Carnival when he benefits are just so obvious…
Thanks for your comment Lubosh. I agree, turning that section of High Street into a pedestrian zone would be an excellent idea for revitalising the Wodonga city centre. It’s not like there is loads of parking space that would be sacrificed in doing this, even now it’s far more convenient to park in areas nearby and walk into High Street.
Yes, and I find it is mostly the historical perception that you can just drive down High St and find a spot right in front of the shop or bank that you are going to…
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