EXPLAINED: Why Jacaranda Festival was postponed
IF EVER there was a litmus test in the Grafton community for the seriousness of the COVID-19 threat, the Jacaranda Festival is it.
The looming possibility of celebrating the city's annual floral festival with a sense of normality by late October was the beacon of hope carried through the initial lockdown phase and into the winter months.
In the throes of the global outbreak the festival committee assembled its party of queen candidates and continued to plan for the event to go ahead. Then against the odds Australia looked to have repelled the virus better than most countries, and the festival's gamble to have paid off.
But the resurgence of the virus in Victoria in recent weeks has forced organisers to rethink the situation and on Tuesday night that glimmer of hope all but faded when the committee made the announcement, resigned to the fact a second wave of COVID-19 was inevitable.
Prior to informing members via Zoom meeting and publicly announcing the decision, festival manager Mark Blackadder delivered an emotional address, in person, to the 2020 Jacaranda Queen Party.
"The festival's had to be postponed until 2021, for obvious reasons after what was announced on Sunday night in Victoria going to Stage Four. It's inevitable that we have to promote the 'stay home, stay safe message'," Mr Blackadder said.
"I'm sorry to have to deliver this news. Three weeks ago we thought we were fine. It's just really disappointing on what's happening with the virus situation."
The official decision to postpone the festival was made at a committee meeting last Thursday (July 30), and Mr Blackadder dreaded having to share the news.
However, the unfolding situation in the interim further confirmed to the committee they had made the right decision.
"I think we made the right decision and at the right time," Jacaranda Festival president Nick Buckler said.
"Going too early was something as a committee we spoke about a lot. Because three weeks ago things were looking really positive for our festival and we had a great scaled down plan for what we were going to do.
"But given how quickly things have changed, we made the decision quite rapidly. We always said August was the best time to make that final call based on a number of factors including how long it takes to pull an event together."
Senior vice president Desan Padayachee said there was pressure from within the committee to postpone the event months ago, but part of the decision to persevere was to send a message of hope to the community.
"One of the reasons why we wanted to keep planning and to promote we were still going to do something was we wanted the community here to have a little bit of hope that something normal can still go ahead," Mr Padayachee said.
"We were trying to condense it, and water it down, and just have a weekend and minimal numbers so that we still had normality to go to. But as it turns out, to try and push something normal could potentially put a lot of people at risk."
Most of the events that happen during the Jacaranda Festival are organised by community members outside the committee, and those people look to the committee for guidance.
"A lot of the community look to the Jacaranda Festival and we had to look at what our responsiblility was morally to everybody," secretary Amanda Ryder said.
"We cannot have what happened in Victoria, and those Queensland girls, we cannot have that in our community."
At least two candidates and four committee members, including Mr Padayachee, are essential workers in the disabilities sector, where they experience first hand the 'stay home, stay safe' message the committee has now adopted for the festival.
"The fact that so many of us on the committee work in disabilities and organisations where the message is 'stay home, stay safe', we can't be seen in our professional roles to be telling people to 'stay home, stay safe, while selling tickets in our public roles to an event," he said.