One of Ballarat's biggest events of the year could be changed forever after a successful opening weekend to the Begonia Festival, according to City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney.
Almost exactly 12 months after the Begonia Festival marked Ballarat's last public event before months of lockdowns, the reinvented festival launched on Saturday, adhering to new guidelines with the traditional Labour Day long weekend event at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens replaced by a sprawling celebration taking place across Ballarat over three weeks.
While the traditional begonia display at the Ballarat Botanical Gardens remains, it has been joined by an urban garden at Civic Hall and art installations along the Sturt Street gardens and Buninyong Botanic Gardens.
Cr Moloney said the festival's opening weekend was like seeing "the Ballarat of old" and estimated that numbers across the festival could match a normal year.
"It went great. Surprisingly really well in the sense that right down to seeing queues of people lined up 50 deep to get into the begonia displays through to all the hospitality venues being full around town, it's been fantastic," he said.
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"Normally, we would get 60,000 over each of the three days and it's quite possible we could see those numbers spread out over the three weeks.
"A lot of the car parks were taken, there were hundreds of people at each of the venues and sitting in the gardens in the median and that's what people used to do in previous generations so, if anything, we're reviving a lot of ideas of the past which is pretty cool when you compare old photos of Ballarat to what we're seeing this weekend with people enjoying the CBD gardens again."
Cr Moloney said the use of multiple locations was something that could remain in planning for future Begonia Festivals.
"I think this will probably change the face of the Begonia Festival forever," he said.
"There was a time when shopkeepers used to do up the shops to have a begonia theme and have a city component that used to filter through to the gardens and that's been lost, but having it rejuvenated in the CBD and having an anchor at both the gardens and Sturt Street is a really good link between the areas and brings people to the gardens and then the CBD to dine and spend money.
"I think it's more the multiple locations in the future rather than multiple weekends because our calendar is normally pretty packed."
It was a busy weekend across Ballarat, with the Begonia Festival being complemented by the ChillOut Festival in Daylesford, the Ballarat Senior Basketball Tournament and the Ballarat Gift, marking the biggest events weekend in the region since the pandemic took hold last March.
Cr Moloney said while RoadNats was an important event, this weekend had a wider appeal across its various events.
"I think that all of it does paint a pretty compelling picture for someone from out of town to come to Ballarat," he said.
With the organisation of events a very different beast compared to 12 months ago, Cr Moloney said there had yet to be any concerns about COVID-19 safety breaches.
"There's always a hint of nervousness around COVID management generally but our state and country is doing well and we want to continue to prove we can have events," he said.
"In this case, it was about spreading the event out over a greater space over a few weekends. In the end, it might be a greater return on investment for us."
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