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40 years (and counting) of Melbourne's Italian Festa

Sbandieratori (Flag Wavers) from Siena performing during the Italian Arts Festival Melbourne

Annual Italian Festas have been held in Carlton since 1978. CO.AS.IT's Museo Italiano has dedicated an exhibition to the history of this celebration of Melbourne's Italian community.

Food, Fun and Flag Wavers, an exhibition organised by CO.AS.IT. and about to enter its final week, brings together for the first time images, objects and stories from the Italian Historical Society Collection which celebrate the unique history of the Lygon Street Festa (also known as Carlton Italian Festa), Australia’s first major Italian street festival. 

From its inception in 1978, the Italian Festa proved hugely popular with people of all ages and backgrounds, attracting over 700,000 people at its peak, CO.AS.IT says on its website. 

And on November 17, Piazza Italia and Lygon Street in Melbourne will come to life again with Melbourne Italian Festa 2019

Stall holders and members of the public enjoying the 1979 Lygon Street Festa.
Stall holders and members of the public enjoying the 1979 Lygon Street Festa.
E.M. Bergagna IHS.P-01986 Courtesy CO.AS.IT. Italian Historical Society

“The Italian Festas are some of the best memories from my youth,” Manager of the CO.AS.IT Italian Historical Society & Museo Italiano Elizabeth Triarico told SBS Italian

“Lygon Street, and also the surrounding streets, from Elgin Street to Queensberry Street were closed to traffic for an entire weekend,” Ms Triarico said. 

A street performer entertaining the crowds at the 1979 Lygon Street Festa.
A street performer entertaining the crowds at the 1979 Lygon Street Festa.
Photographer: E.M. Bergagna. IHS P-01987 Courtesy CO.AS.IT. Italian Historical Society

“There were so many people that you couldn’t even walk... It was really a party that lasted for two days”. 

For this exhibition, Ms Triarico has collected several photos of Italian Festas in Carlton from different years and old leaflets, as well as a video from 1996, which features the “waiters' race”. 

 Sicilian puppet show performed by Sydney based puppeteer Giovanni Bronzino at the 1979 Lygon Street Festa.
Sicilian puppet show performed by Sydney based puppeteer Giovanni Bronzino at the 1979 Lygon Street Festa.
E.M. Bergagna. IHS P-08560 Courtesy CO.AS.IT. Italian Historical Society

CO.AS.IT hopes that this initial collection, displayed at Museo Italiano until November 7, may become a starting point to gather more documentation about the celebration, with the goal in mind of hosting a bigger exhibition next year.

“I thought, 'this is an important event; why don’t we have more images, more stories in our collection?',” Ms Triarico said. 

Elizabeth Triarico at Museo Italiano.
Elizabeth Triarico at Museo Italiano.
SBS
 

If you have any photos or videos of this event, CO.AS.IT encourages you to email them to ihs@coasit.com.au.

The Food, Fun and Flag Wavers exhibition is open until Thursday November 7, 2019 at the Italian Museum in Melbourne from Tuesdays to Fridays, 10am-5pm and on Saturdays 12:30-5pm. Admission is free. For information, please call (03) 9349 9000.

And don't forget about the Melbourne Italian Festa 2019 on November 17 in Piazza Italia and Lygon Street. 

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