Facebook Twitter: @NeosKosmos Instagram Thousands of Melburnians and visitors to Victoria’s capital braced wild winds and rain last Saturday to take part in the 2013 Lonsdale St Greek Festival and to hear Greek popstar Mihalis Hatzigiannis perform. The weather forecast predicted that Melbourne was set for some tumultuous rains, but nothing could have prepared organisers for what was to follow. But the Greek strong crowd took it in their stride when the festival was officially launched by Victorian Premier Denis Napthine and with the president of the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria declaring that nothing could stop the Greeks, especially not the weather. Prior to the official launch, the Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard, with umbrella in tow, ventured around the street and met with festival goers. Opposition leader Tony Abbott did the same alongside the Victorian Premier before all the distinguished guests took to the main stage for the launch. Also on the main stage were the Leader of the Victorian Opposition Daniel Andrews, Bishop Ezekiel of Dervis, Lord Mayor of Melbourne Robert Doyle and the Ambassador of Greece to Australia Haris D. Dafaranos. The Prime Minster also spent time with Hatzigiannis backstage, and posed for photos with students of the Greek Community’s Language Schools. “The presence of Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott reflects the esteem with which the Greek Community of Melbourne is held and its contribution to the fabric of our multicultural nation,” said Mr Papastergiadis. In her speech, Ms Gillard noted that the Greek influence on the fabric of Australia “helped us build a model of citizenship-based multiculturalism which the world admires – and no wonder the people who invented the very idea of citizenship are among the most enthusiastic of all our migrant communities to become citizens of this country,” the Prime Minister told the crowd. After mentioning her grandfather fought alongside the Greeks in the Salonika Front in northern Greece, she went on to congratulate the Greek community and the Hellenic RSL on their work to revive the joint military heritage, specifically the role of Lemnos as a Gallipoli campaign base and Australia’s support for Greece in the Greek campaign and the Battle of Crete. Just after 8:15 pm Hatzigiannis took to the stage to the delight of thousands of fans huddled under umbrellas to see him. There were rumours circulating that he might not have been performing because of the bad weather conditions but he proved on the night the show really must go on as he belted out hit after hit. But it was when all had gone home for the night that things took a turn for the worse. Early Sunday morning strong winds destroyed a major section of the Antipodes Festival precinct. The Qatar Airways Marquee collapsed, along with more than 15 stalls. The Fix pop-up bar was also destroyed when 35 km/h winds hit the CBD. Stalls lost valuable items relating to their involvement at the Festival, while others lost irreplaceable items of cultural importance, which of course impacted on them being able to continue their involvement at the festival. Despite this setback, the festival soldiered on in day two with a stellar line up. They set a record number of participants for the Zorba till You Drop contest, with the winner Elli Baharakakis earning herself a return trip for two to Greece thanks to Qatar Airways and a four day Greek island cruise courtesy of Touchdown Tours. Feeling generous, the sponsors awarded the runner up Christina Jonas the same prize, making both girls incredibly happy. A highlight was the collective dance performance on Sunday afternoon, when Melbourne’s Greek dancing groups joined in one huge procession from one stage to another, ending in one of the most colourful and collective performances ever seen at the Lonsdale Street Festival. And then – to everyone’s surprise – the Cretan Lyra king Psarantonis did a surprise performance flanked by his son George Xylouris and Jim White from The Dirty Three. “Despite the weather conditions, the weekend was full of music and movement. The persistent presence of a crowd – even during high winds and rain- highlights the fact that it has become a milestone event in the Greek community and more broadly in Melbourne. Lonsdale Street remains the beacon of Greek Australian history and culture in Melbourne. The Antipodes Festival and the GOCMV are proud to continue and further these,” said Tammy Iliou, Co-chair of the Antipodes Festival. In Sydney, GreekFest broke attendance records as thousands poured into Darling Harbour to experience a taste of Greece last weekend. The shores of Darling Harbour were a sea of blue and white as Greeks and Philhellenes celebrated two days of music, food, dancing and the best of local and international live entertainment. International superstar and highlight of the weekend’s entertainment Mihalis Hatzigiannis delivered the ultimate performance and the crowd was not disappointed. Sydney was aflutter with cooking demos from last season’s My Kitchen Rules contestants Helen and Steve, dancing from a dozen different dance groups, music from some of the best local talent, and even a life jacket fashion parade hosted by Fat Pizza’s Paul Fenech; there was plenty to keep the audience entertained. “These results would not have been possible without the dedication and hard work of everyone involved, from the sponsors, stall holders, volunteers, artists and everyone working behind the scenes to make this festival one of the most successful ever. It is a testament to the efforts of the Greek Orthodox Community of NSW,” said Festival Chair Nia Karteris Officially launched by The Hon Tony Burke, the Darling Harbour festivities are only a part of what’s to come in the next six weeks of the Greek Festival cultural program. * Turn to our social pages on pages 26 and 27 for more pics from the 2013 Lonsdale St Greek Festival.