The partial opening of Maitland’s new Riverlink building could not have come at a better time as thousands flocked to The Levee for the Riverlights festival on Saturday.
Korea, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tibet and Russia were just some of the 24 different cultures that came together for the event, which sprawled throughout High Street and the riverbank.
Maitland mayor Loretta Baker said while the event was squishy at times, the number of attendees proved the event was a “resounding success”.
“It was shoulder to shoulder,” she said. “But even though it was crowded, people were happy.
“I’ve had so much positive feedback, people really enjoyed it.”
The flow of the crowd was aided by a partial opening of the Riverlink Building, which created an alternate access point to the river other than the Bourke Street entry.
“I was very happy with that,” she said. “We got an idea of how it will work.”
Cr Baker said the real beauty of the event though was the diversity that was on show.
She said in larger cities like Sydney, they might have a Turkish festival or a Greek festival, but because Maitland is a bit smaller, all different groups could come together for the one event.
“It was fantastic to see the social cohesion and joy of experiencing every one else’s cultures,” she said.
“The pride people have in being here, they love being in Maitland, in this country and they love sharing their culture.”
The way that culture was shared was through what Cr Baker described as a “feast for the senses” – music, food, fashion and dancing.
Slow Food Hunter Valley ran the cooking demonstration section of the event, and project leader Amorelle Dempster said the food stories from the different communities helped people understand the cultures.
For example, Aboriginal chef Corey Grech made bunya nuts and Warrigal green pesto pasta and told the story of how his people used Warrigal greens to treat early settlers who had scurvy.
Another example of that mix of cultures was right at the end of the event, when people from all different backgrounds jumped on stage together to have a dance.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Cr Baker said.
As well as music and food, the event featured the Riverlights Lantern Flotilla in the Hunter River, which told the story of Tiddalik the Frog.
The flotilla incorporated lanterns that were decorated by the public, as well as the giant frog structure which was painted at an open workshop earlier this month.
“A lot of community went into it,” Cr Baker said.
There will be two Riverlights events this year. The next festival will take place on Saturday, October 13.