The second Monday in March was always Moomba when I was growing up. It was also Labour Day, the celebration of the 8 hour working day but really it was the Moomba Parade which was the true highlight. The parade has been going since 1955 and consists of colourful floats and displays from various groups. It generally culminated with the Moomba Dragon – a gorgeous Chinese Dragon manned by 150 boys and girls which thinking back was a wonderful example of the diversity of cultures represented. Also featured on the day was the Bird Man Rally – lots of silly people attempting to fly in their home-made costumes and landing in the Yarra.
The name Moomba is interesting – I grew up thinking that it translated to “let’s get together and have fun”. However, in 1981, linguist Barry Blake mentioned the origins in his book “Australian Aboriginal Languages”:
…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 the phrase ‘up your bum’ in the vernacular.
image found online, photographer unknown, showing float going past what is now Federation Square in 1973