Albanian Community Festival, Footscray Park.
The Albanian Community is being held at the portion of Footscray Park right opposite Flemington Racecourse.
It’s the perfect setting – families have thrown rugs and are relaxing on the hill overlooking the sound stage and stalls, where most of the cultural and social action is taking place.
It’s so perfect I wonder why this space is not used for such celebrations more frequently.
Alabania is a small country so it’s right that this is a small festival.
But the vibe is wonderful and I have a grand time.
There’s only two food outlets – one selling baked good of both savoury and sweet varieties, the other selling meat-stuffed rolls – but what I have is just right.
But more of that later.
The most fun I have is meeting, and peppering with questions, the lovely Shelley, who is overseeing the fascinating display mounted by the Australian Albanian Women’s Association.
As ever I did some basic sleuthing about the country and what food I might encounter at the festival, but I am nevertheless woefully ignorant about Albania and everything to do with it.
Shelley, breaking off at various times to greet friends and relatives, happily and generously answers my questions at length.
Shelley with some of the belongings brought by her parents on their voyage to Australia.
She tells me Albania is necessarily a multi-lingual country that is predominantly Muslim but with some Catholicism in the north and Orthodox Christian in the south.
She tells me of the unfolding surges of migration to Australia that started in the Depression era, with most of those Albanians being market gardeners and the like, so they mostly ended up in Shepparton.
Subsequent migratory waves were spawned by wars, both World War II and in Kosovo and, eventually, the collapse of communism.
While being a small nation tucked between Greece, Macedonia and the Adriatic Sea, Alabania was not spared the notorious attentions of Mussolini, Hitler or Stalin.
The Republic Of Albania was founded in 1991.
Shelley tells me that for younger generations of Australian Albanians, such history is becoming increasingly less significant.
She first travelled to Albania, the home of her heritage and ancestry but not of her birth, in 1982 when the country was still under communist rule.
Completely unsurprisingly, she found it a an extraordinarily bracing experience.
Shelley points to her father’s former house in Albania and some of the mementos she gathered when she made her pilgrimage there.
I run into Enzo from Just Sweets, who is out enjoying the day with his family.
Like me, he reckons the simple $5 rolls – chicken or beef “chevap” – are wonderful.
Fresh, crusty rolls, simple cabbage and carrot salad, and marinated chicken or beef skinless sausages.
I have one of each and they’re perfect in every way.
A funny thing – as I parked at the sports grounds a little way up the river, I was dismayed to realise I had failed to hit an ATM on my way to the festival.
As it turns out, my $20 is plenty enough to eat real swell AND buy groceries on the way home.
Ambling around the festival, I happen across another, smaller and unrelated gathering at which I bump into Pastor Cecil.
He’s looking just as suave and cool as ever, especially in the Burmese jacket given to him by his friend, Khai.