In part two of a look back at the history of the Ballarat Begonia Festival, Ron Egeberg reviews the event since 1995.
By 1995, the festival received a boost with the opening of The Robert Clark Horticultural Centre – with its wonderful conservatory and community resource centre.
Through the first half of the 1990s, the Festival had its ups and downs, but the traditional fare continued in the programming; the begonias, the floral carpet and Garden Expo now had a smart home and returned as the centrepiece of the festival; and each year new attractions were added as the physical focus of the festival moved increasingly towards the Botanical Gardens.
For all its triumphs, the festival also went through some very shaky times due to economic downturns; others were seen as too ambitious with income that did not meet budget expectations. However, the original spirit of optimism and enthusiasm never dampened.
In 1996 the Begonia Festival became a special committee of the Ballarat City Council, providing a solid organisational and financial basis for the Festival.
In 1999 the festival celebrated one hundred years of Ballarat’s begonias, 2000 celebrated the new century and introduced the festival’s recently introduced mascot – “Russell”, the Australian water dragon (of Chinese descent) – and 2001 celebrated the centenary of Federation with an al fresco play.
Also in 2000, 2001 and 2002 we introduced our “Gardening” exposition and associated events that culminated in attracting more than 25,000 paying visitors in 2002.
There are not many people in Ballarat who have not been touched in some way by the festival.
By 2000 66 per cent of visitors to the festival were from outside Ballarat and 55 per cent of those intended to undertake other activities during their stay.
The strong links the festival has to individuals in the community also extends to the city’s business, commerce and industry sectors.
For them, it wasn’t a question of sponsorship but it also represented a chance to say we were proud to be part of this community.
Over its 60 years the festival has made a magnificent contribution to Ballarat and, yes, it has not always been a bed of begonias.
But all in all it is a tribute to the Ballarat community’s steadfast support.