When it comes to tradition in Goulburn, the show must and will go on – even if the masses won’t be able to stop and smell the lilacs.
To maintain the 70 years of tradition that is the Goulburn City Lilac Festival, the show will go ahead this upcoming long weekend, just a little differently to the 68 years that have gone before it. Last year, like this one, COVID-19 forced the festival to go virtual.
“We were always going to have a Lilac Festival this year,” chair of the festival committee, Carol James said.
“It was always going to happen. It is the oldest-running festival of its kind still in existence, we can’t end that sort of history – regardless of what we’re up against.”
Carol, who has worn almost every hat there is in Goulburn, from City Mayor to the 2015 Premier’s Award for Woman of the Year, came to the city as a toddler, but there’s one title she puts right up there – Lilac Princess in 1966.
When her committee started tracking down historic photographs of early Lilac Festivals to decorate shops in the main street, she found some treasures – one of her at the third festival in 1954, perched on a float during the street parade and another of her in the parade in 1965.
“There was also one of me as Lilac Princess,” she said. “That’s like a runner-up to the Queen.”
The Lilac Queen, for the past 70 years, is awarded to the person who raises the most money.
“Lilac queens made big money for the town back when the festival began,” Carol said. “Some of them made as much as $20,000 to $30,000 – and that was just through things like raffles.
“We built a hall out of it it was so successful.”
The Lilac Festival started in Goulburn in 1951 with a twofold purpose – to stop all the locals heading off to the coast every October long weekend, and to provide a great weekend of entertainment for all the Sydney visitors who descended on the city at the same time.
“When the Sydney people were asked what they liked best about Goulburn, they said it was the scent of lilacs from the grove along the railway station,” Carol said.
When enthusiasm for the festival began to wane in the late 1980s, Carol and her committee – fresh from organising celebrations for Goulburn’s 150th birthday – came to the fore.
“The festival started to grow and grow again, it was fantastic. The first one we held was great – we had a huge parade, the weather was perfect – even the lilacs were in bloom.
“Since then, our plan has been to make it the biggest and best we can for Goulburn – but then COVID happened. So last year, we went virtual and we were hoping we wouldn’t have to again this year but …”
This year, everyone is invited to celebrate the festival virtually with the official opening by Goulburn Mayor Bob Kirk at 11 am on Saturday, 2 October, followed by the crowning of the Lilac Queen, Princess, Prince and Baby by the 2019-20 Lilac Queen April Watson and festival patron Tony Lamarra, followed by a service of blessing on the Sunday, 3 October.
Local businesses are getting into the spirit, decorating their windows in lilac, featuring historic images of festivals gone by and the adjacent Belmore Park will be awash with lilacs.
“It’s disappointing that we still can’t do all the events we planned for this year, but there is still reason to celebrate – and that’s what we’ll do,” Carol said.
“We’ll make the best of it. The festival has been going, non-stop, for 70 years – we’re not about to stop it now.”