Riverlights Festival: Hunter River comes to life at Maitland

The Hunter River at Maitland came to life in a spectacular way over the weekend.

Weeks of planning for the Riverlights Multicultural Festival were rewarded when hundreds of people took part in a day of activities on Saturday.

The program extended past sunset, when hand-made lanterns were released onto the waterway.

The river has played a central role in indigenous and European history and connects many thousands of people along its length.

But Maitland City Council’s co-ordinator of community planning Mary Dallow said the city’s growing ethnic population, made up of about 21 groups, was the impetus for the festival.

‘‘The circumstances were serendipitous – a happy accident – really,’’ Mrs Dallow said.

‘‘Our multicultural population is growing and the government’s Community Relations Commission has money available for festivals.

‘‘There was a need and the community wanted it,’’ she said.

The 2011 census shows 8233 Maitland residents were born overseas, a 5.2 per cent increase on 2006.

Mrs Dallow said migrants from South and North Sudan were among the newer arrivals to Maitland, joining the more long-standing communities of European origin.

People of Chinese, Filipino and Thai background also joined in the festival, she said.

Activities leading up to the release of the lanterns started early in the day.

Children learned drum beats for a procession that started at the western end of the Heritage Mall and ended along the River Walk.

Mrs Dallow said the festival was funded for another five years.

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