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Wednesday, 17 March 2010
Page: 2868

Mr MARLES (Parliamentary Secretary for Innovation and Industry) (9:33 AM) —This is a great time of year in Geelong as the city makes the most of the glorious autumn sunshine and readies itself for another triumphant football season. This coming weekend will be filled with fairs, festivals and community gatherings being staged back to back. I would like to highlight one event that, like other gatherings across the city, is a celebration of community. But the Whittington Flamefest is much more than that: it is a celebration of cultural diversity and of suburban pride. This part of Geelong is very proud but, in many ways, it is doing it tough. It is a showcase of talents and community strengths too easily overlooked.

The Flamefest draws deeply on the well of creativity that lies within Whittington. It is a once-a-year opportunity for this neighbourhood to tell its own stories. Like many festivals, there are children’s rides and face-painting, but the Flamefest also has a strong Indigenous activities program. Transcripts of the storytelling sessions hosted by a dozen residents have been turned into scripted performances. There are the finals of the ‘Whittington’s Got Talent’—more evidence of Whittington’s great pool of talent and a wonderful sense of fun. A group of women calling themselves ‘Make and Mend’ will contribute to an open community arts and crafts exhibition, amongst a host of other stallholders. More than 1,000 people will attend Friday night’s Flamefest.

Huge organisational strength is needed to stage an event on this scale. By harnessing the volunteering skills of local residents and businesses, together with the Community Renewal Program, a band of more than 100 people have pulled together to create something uniquely theirs. The Flamefest grew from the need to turn the spotlight on a neighbourhood where many residents battle disadvantage, including unemployment. Organisers are already seeing positive outcomes—jobs or training that have been gained through the skills and confidence acquired by volunteering at Flamefest, and young adults re-evaluating their potential and going back to school. This is a smattering of the stories, but it is a significant result in less than three years of Flamefest. This suburban festival has been so completely embraced by locals that it has rapidly become a permanent fixture in their calendar. While community renewal funding for Flamefest finishes in 2012, I am sure Flamefest will continue to evolve through Whittington’s own resources.

This year the Flamefest will be the first official event held in the newly landscaped neighbourhood open space, the Whittington Link, something I am proud to say is the result of funding by all three tiers of government. The night will close, as usual, with the Flamefest finale, including a twilight lantern parade, spectacular handmade giant puppets and other performers. Among the puppets there is a phoenix rising from the flames. The phoenix symbolises the sense of community renewal taking place in Whittington. I would like to think that Flamefest turns a brilliant spotlight on Whittington on one night, but from this night an enthusiastic flame is encouraged to shine in Whittington right throughout the year.