THERE’S nothing more glorious than Melbourne in March. Our beautiful city becomes so alive it shimmers. The nights get cooler and darker, the kids are in bed by 8pm and we get reacquainted with our Doona, our risotto recipes and our winter coats.
The loveliness of March in Melbourne takes me by surprise every year. But we’re always guaranteed the odd scorcher during March to remind us that we live on a tropical island. Or in the case of this week, a ball-tearing heatwave. Welcome to Melbourne. The slogan on our licence plates shouldn’t be “On The Move”. It should be “Bring Bathers. And a Jumper”. It’s not all picnics and icy poles though. March is the month of the revolting, corrosive, environmental and cultural vandalism that is the Grand Prix. Don’t get me started. Point made. This was meant to be a happy piece.
Blame it on the madness of the March weather but I found myself at Moomba twice last weekend despite my general reluctance to drag myself out to events such as the Royal Melbourne Show, Moomba or the Melbourne Cup for fear of finding myself wrangling three kids in a soup of bogans, grumpy families and drunks.
I took a mate down to the festivities on Saturday night. He’s in his 60s, born abroad, and has been a resident of our fair city for only seven years. We laughed at the bloke with the jock rock announcer voice commentating on the water-skiing who turned the term “ladies and gentlemen” into one word and punctuated every sentence with it. As we wandered through the garish-coloured rides, the intoxicating smelling crap food, the fireworks and the sideshows run by people with bad teeth my companion said, “This could be anywhere. I feel as if I’m overseas.” I replied, “You are.”
On Sunday, I fulfilled one of my childhood dreams and finally made it to the Birdman Rally. Sure, I went to the parade as a little tacker and I waved like a loony at Zig and Zag despite finding them slightly creepy, but I never made it to the Birdman Rally. Now I can die a happy woman. Why I don’t feel the need to get stroppy about the name Birdman, not Birdperson, I can’t explain despite the fact women too dress up and jump off all in the name of “because I can”.
As I watched most of the competitors make no attempt at aeronautical ingenuity despite elaborate costumes, I thought, “This is just dickheads jumping into the water to take the piss.” And I loved them for it. When I say “dickheads”, I mean that in a good way. In the same way when I say Channel Nine executives I mean that in a bad way. To the man in the cardboard Messerschmidt, the turquoise alien and the bloke with the pink wings flying the even pinker giant fluffy unicorn, I’d like to say thank you. Thank you for taking the piss.
I don’t know what being an Australian is, but what I do know is that taking the piss is such a crucial element of who we are. I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t take the piss. The worst thing you can call an Australian is uptight or up themselves. At the Birdman Rally I watched an assortment of yahoos, wags and loonies prepared to make total dickheads of themselves purely in the name of taking the piss — appropriately, too, when reminded of the story about the origins of the name Moomba meaning “Up your bum white man”. I don’t care if that story is true or false, it’s just too good to let fact contaminate it.
When my son Charlie was four I attempted to impress him with a dog responding to commands. “Max, sit,” I said. And the dog sat. “Max, shake,” I said. And the dog shook. Charlie looked at the dog and said, “Max, fly”. And as anyone who understands the limitless imagination of a four-year-old will know, Charlie quite expected Max to fly. You know that thing about people only going to the car racing hoping to see a crash? Watching the Birdman Rally I realised that everyone there actually hoped to see someone fly.
Community festivals such as Moomba are integral to the fabric of our society. They get us out of our little biospheres in search of joy. We check out people from other tribes and are reminded that we live, not just in a society, but in a community. “Community” seems such an empty word at times. Festivals make you feel what a community is and be embraced by it. And like making a dickhead of yourself at the Birdman Rally next year.