Carolling for the community

Michael Clarke, Kerri Stewart, Santa, Fred Maddern and Mary Dowling. (Damjan Janevski) 377877_04

Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year. An opportunity to spend time with loved ones and reflect on the year that was. But for Maribyrnong councillor Michael Clarke and other who like to sing, Christmas is a time to get together and carol as Jennifer Pittorino discovered.

This year marks 20 years of Kingsville Carols, a community event made possible by the coming together of three schools – Wembley Primary School, Yarraville West Primary School and Kingsville Primary School.

In 2003 Michael Clarke and his wife Janine decided to start the event to give their kids a taste of carolling at Christmas.

“We started the event because we wanted our daughter Hannah, and our newly arrived son Lachlan to have a community Christmas experience,” Michael said.

With Hannah only three-years-old at the time and Lachlan only a few months old, getting the family anywhere was a challenge.

“To get to the nearest carols you had to pack up the car and everything else, we knew there wasn’t one in Kingsville so I said, come on let’s put our own little carols group together.

“I went to ask Kingsville (Primary School) if they would come sing and they were delighted. I asked Wembley because I had parents asking what about us, and that is how it expanded.”

Each year the three schools choose 50 kids to sing Christmas classics at the annual event held at Beevers Reserve, in Wales Street, Kingsville.

This year’s event was staged on December 7, complete with a night market and performances by Rebecca Barnard, Shane O’Mara, Richard Lewis and Debbie Lavell.

In the 20 years since the event started, Michael said there have been numerous highlights, but the best is always watching the kids have fun.

“Every year my favourite part is watching the kids get lollies when Santa arrives on the fire truck. Just watching all those kids run to Santa is the best,” Michael said.

“The parents love to see their kids sing and the kids love getting up to sing.

“We don’t care if each school sings the same songs and there are double ups. Sing ’Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer’, ’Silent Night’ and ’Jingle Bells’ as any many times as you like.

“It’s an opportunity for the kids to engage in a communications process, they get to sit with each other and talk with each other, in singing together they are sharing a moment.”

For Michael, Christmas is all about family and friends.

“It is a real coming together and an opportunity to step away from the day to day and the mundane, whether it’s work or the troubles of the world, you can come together in fellowship in love and peace,” he said.

“Over the years the community spirit has really crystallised.

“The community really expect the carols to go ahead. It is a joyous expectation that they really want to see go ahead.”

Like Michael, Sue Weaver from the Deer Park Lions Club carols group said that Christmas carols bring the community together.

“The atmosphere is always fantastic and the spirit is always so high,” she said.

“Christmas is about family and getting together, all our families come down to support us on the night, it is a real family event and great for everyone.”

For 43 years, Deer Park Lions Club members have carolled their way through December. This year was Sue’s 14th year singing for the community.

“I love it. I do it purely to give back to the community. I love volunteering as I get so much out of volunteering,” she said.

“Giving back to the community during this time means so much. I do it for the community and to help people.”

The group has 11 members which Sue is hoping to grow in time for next year’s festive season.

“We are a very small group but we are slowly building up as we have a few new members which are fantastic,” she said.

The group hosted its carols event on December 9, with the help of the Sunshine Community Brass.

“It was fantastic. We are always just so happy when people turn up and this year we had 200 people there.

“Our treasurer dresses up as Santa, so when he comes out all of the kids come out and make it so much fun.

“They get lollies and run around, that is the part I love the most.”

Regardless of race or religion, Michael believes Christmas carols events unite the community.

“I think it brings us together, it doesn’t matter Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Jew, Hindu or Sikh, we’re all in it together,” he said.

“The Christmas carols bring all together regardless of background, and particularly at a time where things are very difficult.

“It’s good to know that there’s a meaningful opportunity to refocus, and the refocus here is on joy, the joy of Christmas.”