LARA Gharebiglu knows the idea of Persian new year in Newcastle runs the risk of being mentally filed, by some locals, under “the exotic”.
But the Newcastle resident of eight years, from the Azerbaijan region of Iran, said Saturday’s festival of Norooz (sometimes spelled “Nowruz”) is as much an invitation to the broader community as a chance for expats of a dozen countries to sing, eat and dance together in Civic Park.
“We have people from cities all over Iran [in Newcastle] and some people are from Azerbaijan. Others are from Kurdistan, Turkey, the Balkans, and the 11 or 12 countries where Norooz is celebrated,” Ms Gharebiglu, deputy president of the Australian Iranian Community of Newcastle, said.
“This is [as important as] Christmas for us.”
In Iran, Norooz is marked with the symbols of winter’s end, such as decorated eggs and spring flowers.
Haftsin tables are set with symbols of wealth, fertility and happiness, including goldfish in bowls to signify life within life.
For ethnic Kurds like Ayrin Assadimogh, of Jesmond, Norooz is a reminder of victory over the brutal tyrant Zuhak, and observed from Istanbul to Islington as both a national independence day and an emblem of resistance.
The celebration doesn’t belong to any one religion or ethnic group, Ms Gharebiglu said, and the greetings heard in Civic Park on Saturday will be in English, Farsi, Azeri, Kurdish and Arabic.
The Hunter is home to a few hundred Iranian expats, many of whom are doctors, specialists and students at the University of Newcastle.
This year’s celebration will fall days after US President Donald Trump issued an executive order restricting travel by citizens of six Muslim-majority countries, including Iran, and amid rising support in Australia and the Hunter for One Nation.
Ms Gharebiglu said Norooz had always been an occasion for intercultural dialogue, and she hoped it would be in Newcastle.
“We want the people in the [Persian] community to come along, and we hope the people from Sydney will come up,” she said.
“But our main goal is for the whole Newcastle community to come along.”
Buoyed by a Newcastle council grant to hire a stage – which will host Persian singers and tar players – the Newcastle Norooz organisers have promised food stalls, calligraphy and language workshops, and classical Persian dancers in rich silks, brocades and flowing skirts.
The festival starts at 4pm.