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Parties at the Shops 2

While some were celebrating Canberra’s birthday at the Foundation Stone ceremony and others were nursing hangovers from the big night before – a few different birthday parties were raging in the usually quiet suburbs of Canberra.

Parties at the Shops’ was part of the Canberra centenary celebrations where local shopping centres all over Canberra celebrated the Nation’s Capital by transforming their suburban hubs into miniature block parties. On the 12th of March, all were free to stop by and enjoy their local entertainment, food stalls, and maybe even get some free birthday cake in the process.

In the quiet leafy suburb of Hughes, a local party at the shops was just getting started as I pulled into the car park. The Childers Street Quartet were playing Mozart in front of the bakery, while another band were setting up outside the IGA. The shops were alive with music and people slowly arriving to see what all the fuss was about.

I had sadly missed the cake cutting, but I managed to score a piece anyway as the event organisers wove in and out of the crowd, ensuring everybody got a piece. Balloons were strung up and handed out to children.  Café workers rushed in and out of their shop serving coffee, stopping occasionally to admire the musical talents being displayed.

Jessica Moromiaov, a local Hughes resident was up until midnight making jams and preserves to sell at her stall at the Hughes Shops party. She’s lived in Canberra for eighteen years and she proudly told me, “no where else in Australia is like Canberra.”

After the Heart and Soul Singers from the Tuggernarong Valley serenaded us with harmonized renditions of gentle old favorites, a different sort of band started to play.

Outside of IGA was the Old Boys Union, a five-man rock band hailing from Canberra. After a six year hiatus, the boys had decided to get back on stage, ready to play some rock and roll and celebrate Canberra’s Birthday.

“We used to play professionally,” lead singer Roy Gray informed me, “But now we just play for fun.”

And fun was certainly had. The lads set comprised of rock and roll classics such as Under the Boardwalk, Runaway, Elvis and even some Rolling Stones. The tunes had the audience singing along, clapping and even dancing at one stage.

Halfway during their set, a trio of performers from Poncho Circus set up stage next to the band, and started to perform a routine of acrobatics and juggling. The very different acts performed side by side, sharing the stage and audience very graciously.

Finally, the Old Boys Union played their final song. It was now late afternoon and the party was winding down.

I was impressed at how the whole community had been involved in the intimate celebration. Passer byers would wave to performers they recognized as they strolled past after finishing their shopping. Groups of old ladies called for others to join them at their café table, while clapping along to the music. Once their set finished, the band members came and sat down in the audience and began chatting with their friends.

This is what Canberra is famous for; being that big ‘overgrown country town’, where everyone knows everyone. I’ve never understood why this was always perceived as a bad thing, and today I realized that it isn’t.

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