UPDATED 9:30AM: The Kiamasala Festival has been postponed due to the weather. Organisers say a new date will be announced in the next few weeks.
A love of Indian culture and a growing Indian migrant community has led Kiama to host the first Kiamasala Festival of India on 5 November with traditional food, dance and music.
Festival co-director and Kiama Business Chamber president Cameron McDonald said it was multiple visions aligning that led to the idea for the festival.
“Back in the day, I used to backpack and I spent a lot of time in India and I just loved the culture, and Tom [Oxley], who’s my co-director, grew up with Indian stepsisters,” Cameron said.
“We had heard that Pritpal [Saini] from JJ’s Kiama [Indian restaurant] had wanted to run an Indian festival at some stage, but he was thinking about it in his restaurant.
“So we went down and had a meeting with Pritpal and we said, ‘Well, we’re really interested in running a festival but let’s take it to a grander scale’ – and our visions aligned.”
Cameron said it started with the premise of simply loving the culture and building connections after seeing many Indian families settling in the area.
However, he said he hoped it inspired a welcoming attitude towards Indian people locally, and other cultures generally, who were bringing a range of professional and business skills to the region.
“Essentially, it’s about that understanding and cross-promotion of cultures,” he said.
“Being involved in the chamber of commerce, there’s also an economic benefit.
“Hopefully we derive from showcasing this local area that it’s really good for tourism, but also for businesses that aspire to be set up down here. and to promote that there’s employment here and hopefully more generated in the future,” he added, referencing the upcoming Shellharbour Hospital and extensions to the Shoalhaven Hospital.
“We hope the Indian community is involved in that.”
Kiamasala will include sunrise yoga, Chai Time tea drinking, and a Bollywood dance workshop, before the festival officially starts at 11 am on the main stage with drummers and a roving dahl drum, Bollywood and classical dance, live music and a DJ.
There will be 12 street food carts providing fare from across India, including curries, vegetarian dishes and Indian sweets, and stalls with henna artists, an Indian fashion stall where you can try on a sari, pottery and jewellery.
“There’s an image of an Indian character with a green face and a big headdress and he does a traditional style of dance called Kathakali, which is from that Kerala area in southwestern India,” Cameron said.
“There’ll be a gentleman dressed up in this and he’ll put on a dance, but essentially, you can come in and see him getting his make-up applied, which is a bit of a tradition as well.”
The festival will end with DJ Bali, who has amassed 89,000 Facebook followers, on the main stage.
“There’s also the picnic [steam] train coming down and apparently they sold out within a few minutes,” Cameron said.
“They’re bringing down a few people and … we’re hoping to meet the train with a few drummers and get them involved, so that’ll be a bit of fun as well.”
Cameron said they had easily been able to source different cultural experiences for the festival due to the strong Indian community within the Illawarra and connections between groups, including the Indian Australian Cultural Association of the Illawarra Inc.
“It’s such a great culture to have a festival with because they’ve got colour, dance, music and food,” he said.
He said plans were already afoot for next year’s festival.
“We’ve certainly got plans of expansion because there’s a lot of offerings we could include, like a Bollywood film night, a cricket comp and there’s a sport called kabaddi,” he said.
“So we’d like to really expand into those other areas of Indian culture, but we just simply haven’t got the time to do that this year.
“We’ve had some good conversations with Shellharbour, Shoalhaven and Wollongong councils as well as Kiama Council and they’re all very supportive to get involved in the future festival.
“What we’re aiming for next year is not just to focus it on Kiama, because we’re a little bit restricted infrastructure-wise here, but to make it more of a regional festival.”
Organisers are hoping to host the Consulate General of India from Sydney for the day, Mayor Neil Riley is working on partnering the festival with a sister city in India, and there are plans for next year to work with the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) 3500-strong Indian student base and its campus in Gujarat in India.
In the meantime, about 20 UOW students will be volunteering on the day.
Kiamasala Festival of India is a free event to be held at Black Beach, Kiama Harbour, on 5 November.