Community and connection will be the priority as the Ulladulla Blessing of the Fleet Festival returns in an event bigger than ever before.
Chairperson of the executive committee Leonie Smith said the Ulladulla community had come together in anticipation of the festival.
“Everyone joins in on the day, and helps or joins the parade, or has stalls.”
Easter Sunday (9 April) will see a packed schedule offering plenty for festivalgoers to enjoy, with the day starting at 9 am.
The Catholic blessing, to be performed by Father Michael Dyer, will take place at 1 pm, before Marine Rescue Ulladulla take him around the harbour to bless each boat in turn.
“All the boats are decorated with colourful streamers and flags, and it’s quite a sight!”
This year will also see the return of the parade, as well as the ‘greasy pole’ and the tug-of-war competitions, after a three-year hiatus.
“It’s important for this town – it’s a part of our culture, a part of our identity, and I think a lot of people are just really looking forward to having it back,” said Ms Smith.
“It’s really making a lot of people happy.”
For the first time in 2023, the parade will start at 10:30 am, with a new route.
“We’re just really excited to see the return of the parade, especially because it’s the heart of the festival,” she said.
As in previous years, the committee organised the Blessing of the Fleet Princess Ball, which is held a fortnight before the festival, to determine this year’s princess.
The police lead the colourful parade along the Princes Highway, followed by the Italian fishermen with a statue of Saint Peter, the patron saint of fishermen.
The Princess of the Fleet comes next on her float, followed by the other princesses on their floats.
Princesses from the past three years were invited to participate, as they had missed out on their turn leading the parade, said Ms Smith.
Community organisations such as the Apex Club of Milton Ulladulla, Ulladulla Milton Lions Club, Marine Rescue Ulladulla, the RFS and the SES will also be participating.
“It’s just a real community festival; everyone’s involved in some way or another.”
“You’re either sponsoring it or you’re helping build a float or you’re a shopkeeper and you’re really looking forward to quadrupling your trade for the day – I mean, what it does to the visitor economy is just amazing.”
Festivalgoers will also be able to browse more than 81 market stalls, view vintage cars, listen to live music from 3 pm and view fireworks (set to music for the first time) from 6 pm, enjoy rides, take in performances from Scottish marching bands and check out a portable ice rink.
There will also be a kids area with offerings such as a kids disco, face painting and a dance performance at 1 pm to keep youngsters entertained.
Additionally, to raise funds for the committee and to launch the 2023 festival, the Taste of the Sea fundraiser will be held on 8 April at the Civic Centre in Ulladulla.
“It’s all seafood that’s been provided by the [Ulladulla Fisherman’s] Co-Op.”
Ms Smith said the Blessing of the Fleet Festival represented much more than a day out with friends and family.
“It’s been a really hard few years for this regional town.”
She said that, even before the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions, natural disasters had battered the region.
“We lost 95 houses in one night, and three lives,” she said.
“We were smashed by the fires and then we had flooding in our region straight after the fires – we had serious flooding in Conjola, so Conjola got smashed twice.”
After the trauma and hardship of the past few years, the resumption of the full festival meant a lot to organisers and the Ulladulla community, said Ms Smith.
“It’s just good for our spirit.”
The festival is coordinated by volunteers from the Rotary Club of Milton Ulladulla.
The Taste of the Sea fundraiser will be held on Easter Saturday (8 April), with tickets available via StickyTickets, and the Blessing of the Fleet Festival will be held on 9 April.