The changing nature of our spring fair
Saturday, October 21 was possibly the 40th anniversary of North Melbourne’s annual Spring Festival, but that is an approximation because having started as a grassroots event, there are no records.
The original event, the North Melbourne Fair, was the brainchild of Kay Oke. Kay can’t remember what year that was – only that her children were young – hence the approximation.
Kay observed that several organisations – schools, kindergartens, churches, animal welfare organisations and lobby groups – regularly held stalls in Errol St. She thought it would be a good idea for them all to get together and everyone could bring their friends. She enlisted the help of Ruth Crow and the event got under way.
The event is traditionally held two weeks after the AFL Grand Final to allow the possibility of a play-off the following Saturday if there was to be a draw.
The first few fairs were held on two levels of the Town Hall. There were a variety of stalls upstairs, and food was sold downstairs.
These were the days before the iron hand of bureaucratic regulation began to stifle grassroots community events. Permits were not required, ingredients of cakes sold did not have to be listed, and the use of the Town Hall was free, with no payment for insurance required.
There was the added advantages of having trams stop close to the door, and the enjoyment of the event was not weather-dependent.
The date has remained constant but the fair itself has gone through several changes of name and character. Once the Melbourne City Council made stipulations on the use of the Town Hall it was necessary to change the venue to Errol St and some of the side streets.
The name changed to the “Spring Fling”. Trams had to be diverted and stalls were erected on the side of the street and stages for entertainment were set up. For the past two years the event has had a significant reshaping. Now called the Queensberry Cup, with billycart racing becoming a major attraction.
The Hotham History Project (HHP) has been a supporter of the event in all its forms. It has set up its stall and banner whatever the weather, and there have certainly been years when rocks have been used to prevent papers being blown away and precautions taken to prevent the banner crashing down on someone’s head.
The stall is a magnet for long-term and returning residents wanting to catch up, and also attracts people new to North Melbourne.
Previous years have included popular talks on how to research the history of your home, and tours of the bell tower of the North Melbourne Town Hall.
This year the Project held walks in the immediate vicinity of Errol St. They included a walk to the Victoria St plaque that commemorates the laying of the foundation stone in 1851, and two pub walks.
The stall also provides an opportunity to showcase and sell our many publications. We are currently working on the history of West Melbourne and that will hopefully be available for sale in the new year – and definitely in time for next year’s Spring Festival.
Kay Oke is now the chair of the Neighbourhood Centre that organises the festival, as well as being on the committee of the HHP. Thank you, Kay! •
Felicity Jack for the Hotham History Project.