The first edition of Nepal Festival, a biennial event held in several Australian capital cities, has just concluded in Brisbane. The most important event of the fastest growing migrant community of Australia is hosted by the respective State Coordination Councils (SCCs) of Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), a global body currently presided over by Melbourne-based education tycoon Shesh Ghale.
Next in the series is Sydney, the place where Nepal Festival was born in 2006. Weeks to go before the event but Nepalese flags are already flying high around Darling Harbour, the site where the Festival will take place on November 26. Sydney being the centre of the Nepalese diaspora in Australia, all eyes are now on how the Darling Harbour chapter pans out.
Given the importance of these events, southasia.com.au asked Santosh Kunwar (secretary, Queensland NRNA SCC) and Dr Bharat Raj Poudel (independent observer, media expert and secretary of NRNA’s SKI Task Force) about their experiences of having organised the Queensland version last weekend. We questioned if organising Nepal Festival in one place for all of Australia is a better idea in order to attract the attention of the wider Australian society as well as that of the mainstream Australian media.
We also asked if Nepal Festival is indeed contributing to the stated objective of promoting Nepalese culture and tradition in Australia as some critics question the effectiveness of the Festival because the presence of non-Nepalese remains meagre at best.
SA: Congratulations on your recently-held Nepal Festival. It was widely termed as “successful” on social media. As the secretary of NRNA’s Queensland chapter, how successful do you think the Brisbane event was?
Santosh Kunwar: It was indeed very successful. Our main objectives were to present Nepal’s art, culture and tradition to the wider Australian society and we were somehow successful in bringing all together via Nepal Parade, Nepal House, cultural fashion show and musical concerts.
Dr Poudel: Thanks, actually Nepal Festival was a grand success. Nepal Parade, which was held on the eve of the Festival, drew considerable attention of Australians because it happened to be a Friday evening. Some 5000 people including pedestrians and shoppers had the opportunity to witness Nepal’s traditional music and the colourful march-past of 400 plus Nepalis dressed in daura suruwal, dhaka topi and cultural attires. People also had a glimpse of the get-up of Kumari (the living Goddess), jhankri (shaman) and lakhe dancers.
Social media, online media and mainstream media outlets back in Nepal, Australia and from around the globe had something beautiful to write about. On Saturday, the actual day of the Festival, typical Nepalese house, food festivals, stalls of Nepali businesses and education and migration consultancies, colleges and institutions owned by Nepalese and Aussie business houses alike were on display. There were also handicrafts and traditional household items that reflected the quintessential Nepal. The last event on the day was the concert by Kandara band, Sugam Pokharel, Anju Panta, Ramila Neupane and local artistes. The guest artistes from Nepal gave an enthralling performance to the content of the many thousand-strong audience. We estimate around 15,000 people witnessed all events in 3 days. As you know, only approximately 5000 Nepalese reside within the greater Brisbane area. So the big number meant people from neighbouring cities such as Toowoomba, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast poured into the city to participate in the event. There were many interstate visitors too.
SA: As you know, other editions of the Nepal Festival are around the corner. What can the organisers in Sydney and Melbourne learn from your experience? Do you have any particular advice for them?
Dr Poudel: First and foremost, aggressive media campaign was a must for us. We had a core team to monitor and prepare PSAs and social media literature to throw into the hundreds of postings, press notes and news reports. Short videos were massively shared. Australian media outlets were also contacted. All Nepalese media outlets were kept in the loop in the run up to the event. Any-time contact was established. Business houses showed huge interests in the event, without organisers having to chase them. However, many were left out because of limited space at the festival venue. Furthermore, regular contacts with Brisbane City Council Queensland Police, government’s multicultural department, office of the premier and MPs were maintained. Nepalese student communities in half a dozen universities were a big help in that they helped us by promoting Nepal Festival within their respective groups. Many groceries and restaurants had posters on their premises that drew shoppers’ attention about the big event that is the Nepal Festival.
SA: Although Nepal Festival has evolved as a major event of the diaspora, it is not entirely free from criticism. Some opine that it is one big get-together of the Australian Nepalese communities without any results in terms of actually promoting Nepal’s tourism sector or culture (as claimed). It is just another programme by Nepalese for Nepalese, they say, without being able to attract people beyond the Nepalese diaspora. Do you agree?
Santosh Kunwar: This criticism has been a major issue and somehow the perception would be changed in the future if we are able to attract members of other Australian communities at large. It’s a Nepal festival, so of course there will be more Nepalese than non-Nepalese. However, I am of the belief that this is gradually changing and the number of non-Nepalese participants is increasing every year.
Dr Poudel: Actually it was criticism like this that helped us focus on major elements of the branded mega event and correct mistakes of the past. Firstly, it is exploring and reestablishing the fact that Nepalese are integral part of multicultural society. They deserve fair share of opportunities, friendship and support from Nepal and Australia. Our values, tradition and harmony can promote Nepal in Australia and vice versa. NF is boosting economic activities by promoting products of both the countries. Number of small businesses is growing on the basis of more information shared. Students, communities, businesses, local and professional artistes have their space to be part of the Nepalese diaspora.
SA: Perhaps, instead of holding it state-wise, there could be one big Nepal Festival at a chosen capital city? Perhaps one event only would attract Nepalese from across the country making it a mega-event in true sense of the term?
Santosh Kunwar: I think this is not feasible. There are less chances of people traveling to other states to attend Nepal Festival. Instead of centralising the event, every state should organise it on a larger scale so that more people and non-Nepalese people become interested. With bigger promotional activities, every state can have their own grand Nepal Festivals. That is better in regard to the promotion of Nepalese culture and tradition.
Dr. Poudel: It is not feasible to have only one NF because Nepalese are living in every state and it is not viable on the basis of cost benefit analysis. It is better to include and promote locals in each state. Nepal Tourism Board, Embassy of Nepal and NRNA with local communities and businesses need to work together to expand and promote such a mega event so that it can have more dimensions, products and information.
SA: “Promotion of Nepalese culture and tradition” will certainly not occur until and unless some media attention is generated. On the other hand, the Australian Media’s coverage of Nepal Festival is non-existent, negligible at best. What strategy do you think the organisers of this biennial programme take to generate some media interest?
Santosh Kuwanr: Media coverage could certainly have been more extensive. Invitations were sent but were not followed up properly. I think we could have done better in building rapport with the media.
Dr. Poudel: Media involved in multicultural coverage were aware of the event. But NRNA did not spend money for PSAs in local commercial media because of high cost. However, some media are covering NF footage and information for periodic features, documentaries and general news articles. The priority of Australian media will be convincing in future festivals, I hope. Nepalese media have covered the events satisfactorily. Interestingly online media and online TVs have done a great job. Facebook live was massively used to showcase the events. On the whole, local Nepalese media outlets were a tremendous support.
SA: How many people do you think visited the Brisbane edition of Nepal Festival? Are you happy with the turn-out?
Santosh Kunwar: Over ten thousand people visited the main event on Saturday the 12th of November. We were excited and were happy with the number.
Dr Poudel: I would say more than 15 thousand have witnessed NF despite heavy rains. At least five thousand visited Nepal House and another five thousand had earlier (Friday evening) witnessed Nepal Parade in the middle of Brissie.
SA: What was the most successful part of the event, in your view?
Santosh Kunwar: Our unique cultural performances as mentioned earlier, Nepal Parade and Nepal House were the main attractions of this year’s Nepal Festival in Brisbane.
Dr Poudel: As a media advocate, I was much impressed with Nepal Parade. Nepal House was typically designed with Nepalese craft and traditional household items. In fact, many Nepalese Australians turned nostalgic at the recreation of a typical Nepalese estate. Fashion parade by both Australian and Nepalese catwalkers dressed in traditional Nepalese costumes was notable and eye-catching.
SA: What would NRNA use the funds generated by the event?
Santosh Kunwar: The funds generated will be used for future NRNA activities.
Dr Poudel: It is up to NRNA what it wishes to do with the funds generated by the Nepal Festival. Hopefully, it will be used for their future events. But I believe Nepal Festivals are not organised for profits but for the greater good of the diaspora and the promotion of Nepalese art and culture and tradition.