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Waterskiing events at Moomba
Genre Carnival
Begins Labour day long weekend (second Monday in March)
Frequency annual
Location(s) Melbourne, Australia
Years active 61
Inaugurated 1955
Attendance 1.7 million (record - 1996)
Organised by City of Melbourne

Moomba (also known as the Moomba Festival), held annually in Melbourne, is Australia's largest free community festival and one of Australia's longest running community festivals. It is celebrated during the Labour Day long weekend (over four days, from Friday to the second Monday in March). Moomba is culturally important to Melbourne, having been celebrated since 1955 and regularly attracts up to a million people with a record attendance of 1.7 million set in 1996.

In 2003, the event was renamed Melbourne Moomba Waterfest and is centred on the Yarra River. It is run by the City of Melbourne.

Traditional events include the Moomba parade, crowning of Moomba monarchs, fireworks displays, carnivals in the gardens along the river, river activities including watersports, water floats, the birdman rally, as well as live music and bands.


  • Origins 1
  • Etymology 2
  • Event History 3
  • Events 4
    • Parade and floats 4.1
    • Moomba monarchs 4.2
    • Fireworks 4.3
    • Carnival 4.4
    • River activities 4.5
      • Waterskiing 4.5.1
      • River Floats 4.5.2
      • Birdman rally 4.5.3
    • Music and Live Bands 4.6
  • Popular Culture 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


In 1951, Australia celebrated fifty years of [2] A promotional theme song "Come to Melbourne for the Moomba" was written by Jack O'Hagan.


Moomba means up your bum in many local Aboriginal languages[3]

Linguists and historians say Moomba is a joining of the Aboriginal words "moom", meaning bottom, and "ba", which means "up".[4]

A long running belief is that the name Moomba was suggested to festival organizers as a cheeky joke. The name was proposed to Melbourne City Council by Bill Onus, a unionist and President of the Australian Aborigines League.[5] It is believed the well known unionist, Bill Onus, was getting back at the city council for having deliberately upstaged the traditional Labour Day march with a popular carnival.[3]

Louise Hercus, in 1969, wrote in the The Languages of Victoria that the Aboriginal word 'mum' translates into 'bottom, rump'.

In 1981 Barry Blake in his Australian Aboriginal Languages spelled out the etymology in more detail:

Undoubtedly the most unfortunate choice of a proper name from Aboriginal sources was made in Melbourne when the city fathers chose to name the city's annual festival 'Moomba'. The name is supposed to mean 'Let's get together and have fun', though one wonders how anyone could be naive enough to believe that all this can be expressed in two syllables. In fact 'moom' (mum) means 'buttocks' or 'anus' in various Victorian languages and 'ba' is a suffix that can mean 'at', 'in' or 'on'. Presumably someone has tried to render 'up your bum' in the vernacular.

As of at least 2008, official translation of Moomba continues to be "let's get together and have fun".[4]

However, there is some evidence that the profane etymology actually originated from a reporting error by Bill Onus' son Lin Onus in an interview after Bill's death in 1968.[5] Lin Onus' wife Jo Onus reported that Lin was mistaken in the interview and the "up your bum" origin was inaccurate. According to Jo Onus, Bill Onus selected the word as a generic term for a ceremony (without the spiritual connotations of the more widely known word "corroboree"). Certainly, Bill Onus had previously used the word for a 1951 50-year jubilee of Federation aboriginal celebration named "Out of the Dark".[5]

Similar words used in different Aboriginal languages mean "show", "making a noise", "thunder" or "dark". The etymology remains ambiguous.[5]

Event History

The first festival was a 15-day festival officially opened on 12 March 1955 by Governor Sir Dallas Brooks.[6] The inaugural programme included a fireworks display, parade, vintage car display, Henley rowing regatta, river floats including a "Lord Mayor's houseboat", cycling race, tennis at Kooyong, concerts including performances by the Victorian Symphony Orchestra and Royal Philharmonic choir, crowning of the Queen of Moomba and riverside carnival. 25,000 turned out to watch the inaugural Moomba parade down Swanston Street. The first Moomba was heavily criticised by Melbourne's conservative establishment, including the Anglican church which at the time claimed it was hedonistic and embodying social decay.[7] Council responded to the criticism citing that Moomba was intended to be a festival for families and as such is reinforcing family values in society.[8]


Parade and floats

A parade (or "procession") and floats through the streets of Melbourne have been a key part of the Moomba festival since its beginning. Each year it attracts over 100,000 people to Melbourne's city centre as well as being shown on free-to-air television in Melbourne.

The first Moomba procession was held in 1955. It was first televised in 1957, the year after the Melbourne 1956 Olympics.

Snuff Puppets float Moomba Parade 2001

The floats have an annual theme, usually an elaboration on "Let's get together and have fun", the avowed mission and vision statement of Moomba and are usually from sister cities (of which Melbourne has six), schools and community groups. They also promote some aspect of the arts, like singing, dancing, or design. Swanston Street is the traditional home of the floats and spine of the city and horse- or tractor-drawn floats use the tram tracks. Decorated trams are sometimes also featured.

In 2001, the parade came under media controversy when a French Troupe and Melbourne's Snuff Puppets had floats with naked people covered in body paint.

Moomba monarchs

2014 Moomba monarchs -- Lucy Durack and Bert Newton

"The Moomba monarchy has been one of the most celebrated and controversial components of the festival over the years."[9]

  1. Queen of Moomba (1955 to 1987) from Beverley Stewart to Marita Jones.[10] Won by a beauty pageant competition. 1966 Moomba Queen Erica McMillan was killed in a car accident seven weeks after the festival, in the car which she had received as a prize for being voted Queen. [11]
  2. Queen of the Pacific (1967–1977) from Betty Lim Saw Yim (as Princess of Malaysia) to Lei Maa (Princess of Hawaii).[10]
  3. King of Moomba (1967 to 1987): British actor Robert Morley (1967), British actor Alfred Marks (1968), Italian opera singer Tito Gobbi (1969), featherweight boxing champion Johnny Famechon (1970), Russian clown Oleg Popov (1971), pop singer Johnny Farnham (1972) with Collingwood footballer Lou Richards as his Jester, indigenous Pastor Sir Douglas Nicholls (1973), ballet dancer Sir Robert Helpmann (1974), entertainer Rolf Harris (1975), entertainer Barry Crocker (1976), Disney character Mickey Mouse as King of Moomba and TV Personality Ugly Dave Gray as a Jester (1977), first Melbourne born king, entertainer Bert Newton (1978), entertainer Graham Kennedy (1979), TV actor Paul Cronin (1980), Lou Richards again but this time as King (1981), film, TV and stage actor Frank Thring (1982), TV Personality Daryl Somers (1983), footballer Kevin Bartlett (1984), TV Personality Ian "Molly" Meldrum (1985), motor racing driver Peter Brock (1986) and champion doubles tennis player Paul McNamee (1987).[9] Another source lists Gobbi (1968), Marks (1969) and Richards as Jester (1971).[10]
  4. Moomba Monarch (1988–1999) (2010–present): Jo Pearson, Con the Fruiterer, David Hanison, Tony Shaw, Keith Dunstan, The Oarsome Foursome, Andrew Gaze, Cathy Freeman, Marina Prior, Kevin Sheedy, Trevor Marmalade, Lano and Woodley, and Denise Drysdale.[10] Female Monarchs were also called Queen of Moomba and male Monarchs were called King of Moomba. In 1999 the tradition ended when clowns Zig and Zag were appointed. After it was revealed that, years before, Zig (Jack Perry) had pleaded guilty to child molestation they were dethroned. In 2010 the tradition was finally restored after 11 years with Molly Meldrum and Kate Ceberano being named King and Queen of Moomba [12] (2011): Mick Malthouse and Ruby Rose.[13] (2012): Harry Kewell and Natalie Bassingthwaighte.[14] (2013): Ambulance Victoria and St John's Ambulance (one combined representative), MFB, CFA, Salvation Army, the Department of Sustainability and Environment, SES and Victoria Police, made up the Seven Kings and Queens [15]
  5. Young Ambassador (2003–2009): Carrie Stoney, Sam Quinn, Alan Wu, Natalie Bassingthwaighte.[10] 2007: Trisha Broadbridge.[16]

The Moomba Monarch crowns for 2010 and 2011 were handcrafted by Paris Kyne Master Milliner. 1989 also had a time where Moomba also included a Prince and Princess of Moomba which were two children who applied through a radio competition on radio station 3KZ with resumes and auditions to perform paid work with the Life. Be in it. dancers in the Alexander Gardens every day. These two winners were Mark Monroe & Katherine. <<>>


Fireworks are a big part of the Moomba festival and large displays occur on the opening and closing nights of the festival .The fireworks are above the Yarra river.


A traditional carnival including Ferris wheel are held in the Alexandra Gardens along the river bank. In recent years, the carnival has extended to Birrarung Marr across the river. It is popular with children, and dagwood dogs and doughnut stands line the paths.

River activities

Moomba is somewhat a paradox in that it celebrates the Yarra River, a river that has been much maligned in the history of the city until the last few decades.


Water skiing on the Yarra
Water stunts

Water skiing in the Yarra was introduced to Moomba in 1959.

River Floats

The festival has featured Chinese Dragon Boats and the Moomba Showboat.

Birdman rally

Among the more popular Birdmen event, the Birdman Rally, which traditionally adds colour to the festival and is traditionally held at the Swan Street bridge, a location that also featured in the 2006 Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony as part of the Queens Baton Relay.

Beginning in 1976, the infamous Birdman event has been run on and off during Moomba's history.

More recently the event was stopped due to high levels of E. coli contamination of the Yarra.

2004 saw the return of the famous Birdman Rally to the Yarra River.

Subsequent cleanups reduced pollution to acceptable levels and in 2005, the rally was held close to its traditional location in the new inner city park, Birrarung Marr.

Music and Live Bands

Kimbra performing at Moomba in 2011

Moomba's performers have included international acts such as ABBA, Neil Diamond and AC/DC as well as a number of smaller local acts.

In 2012, performers included Tex Perkins and Daryl Braithwaite.

Popular Culture

Do-Re-Mi released a single "King of Moomba" in 1987 in reference to the crowning element of the festival.


  1. ^ "Council waits on 'Moomba'" pg 1. The Argus Tuesday 6 April 1954
  2. ^ pg4. The Argus Wednesday 1 December 1954
  3. ^ a b
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ a b c d Does Moomba really mean ‘up your bum’?
  6. ^ pg 9. The Argus. Saturday 29 January 1955
  7. ^ pg 15. The Argus Monday 14 March 1955
  8. ^ pg. 8. The Argus. Tuesday 15 March 1955
  9. ^ a b Craig Bellamy, Gordon Chisholm, Hilary Eriksen (17 Feb 2006) Moomba: A festival for the people.: PDF pp 17-22
  10. ^ a b c d e Moomba Monarchs:
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ Mary Bolling & Matthew Schulz, (12 Mar 2007) Moomba thrills young and old:,23599,21366832-421,00.html article from Herald Sun

Eckersley, M. 2012. 'Australian Indigenous Drama'. Tasman Press. Altona.

External links

  • Melbourne City Council's Moomba page
  • Moomba page at Culture Victoria
  • entry on the word "Moomba"
  • Also see the official Moomba history book written by Dr Craig Bellamy et al. (2006)
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