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Covering The Banana Shire
Central West Queensland

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6 September, 2020

Christmas Festival might be off but wait for the surprise

Biloela Enterprise makes tough call to cancel popular event but there's still some jolly good fun ahead

By Jen Gourley

2019 Festival Coordinator Gail Rodda with Sebastian McMillan.

IT’S one of the highlights on the Callide Dawson calendar – the annual Biloela Christmas Festival.

Markets, entertainment, food stalls, home baking, lucky dips, and even a visit from Santa organised to get everyone in the Christmas spirit.

However, due to Covid-19, Biloela Enterprise had to make the tough call to cancel the popular event scheduled for November.

Biloela Enterprise secretary and  Biloela Festival coordinator Gail Rodda said it was hard to make a decision that would no doubt disappoint many fans of the Christmas festival, but she explained why it was the right thing to do for the local community.

“We had our initial conversations about what we were doing about the 2020 Christmas Festival about three months ago because we needed to start working out what we were going to do,” Ms Rodda said.

“And we were hopeful things would have reached a point where we could proceed and keep the community safe and keep our vendors safe. But we’re so reliant on people doing the right thing, and we keep seeing cases where people are not doing the right thing, and when you look at the restrictions and what you need to have in place, trying to control an event that has 2500 people come to it, in an open space … it just wasn’t feasible.

“And whilst we have an amazing group of volunteers we would have probably needed a workforce about four times that to be able to do it effectively.

“And we do have vendors that come from all around Mackay, from down south, from out west, so we’re bringing people into the town that may be in areas by November that may have had exposure (to Covid-19). It’s really hard to do anything without a crystal ball.

“Yesterday was tough, it’s tough making the decision to cancel something.

“There was a lot of conversation around it and then touching base with our vendors and letting them know that we’ve cancelled it … Some of those people have not had an income from their regular business since March or April and knowing that part of their income is the Christmas Festival, knowing that we can’t commit to them, there’s that side of it as well.

“So, it wasn’t a decision taken on lightly, but we believe we’ve made the best decision in the circumstances without being able to see the future.”

Ms Rodda came face-to-face with the disappointment the cancellation caused with she encountered a young child the day after the decision was announced.

“I’m a disability support worker,” Ms Rodda explained, “and I rocked up to one of my shifts yesterday and one of the young kids said, ‘It’s so sad you had to cancel Christmas, Gail.’ And I said, ‘That’s the good thing about living somewhere wonderful like Biloela, we don’t cancel things, we just look for an alternate opportunity.’ And they’re like, “Oh, we’ll still have Christmas?” And I said, ‘We will still have Christmas’.”

So even though the Christmas festival is cancelled for 2020, Ms Rodda hinted the organisers still have something up their collective sleeve.

“Biloela Enterprise, being the group that we are, we’re not willing to just cancel the event and leave it at that,” she said.

“So, we are looking at other options that we can do around town that are going to be Covid-safe and still have that inclusiveness, still promote that Christmas spirit.

“We had our board meeting yesterday morning and went through a few bits and pieces so hopefully by our next board meeting we’ll have nutted out our plans, whether it be something down Kariboe and Callide streets or a big Christmas giving tree in the centre of town … there’s so many options available.”

Whatever plans are put in place, there will definitely be something for people to look forward to.

“It’s all about making sure that we’re keeping our community safe and well but still giving them things to do,” Ms Rodda said.

“You look at all the other community groups around town and events that have had to be cancelled or postponed … we want to still be able to do things because the community needs it, it’s about mental health, keeping people from being overwhelmed by everything, or from being disconnected within the community because you don’t have those social gatherings that people rely on.

“It’s big picture stuff being done at a ground level.”

So, this year’s celebration will be very different to what the festival normally looks like, but Ms Rodda said Biloela Enterprise would still be promoting an inclusive Christmas feeling throughout the town.

“That fact that we’ve given a bit of forward thinking to it and we’re looking at other things that we can do around town, there’s always hope, there’s always something to look forward to,” Ms Rodda said.

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