After a year of cancelled events and social distancing, regional towns are planning how to reunite their communities and provide a burst of excitement for locals.

Key points:

  • The Karoonda Farm Fair, one of the Mallee’s biggest events, has announced dates for this year
  • The requirement to run a COVID-safe event has meant many long-standing community traditions will see significant changes
  • The Loxton Mardi Gras will move from the town’s main street to help maintain social distance at the event

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and continued restrictions throughout the year saw country events across the state cancelled.

First, due to a ban on large gatherings and events, and then social distancing requirements and attendee limits made many community celebrations unviable.

Mallee’s community celebration returns

For Karoonda, situated 145 kilometres east of Adelaide in South Australia’s Mallee region, its annual Farm Fair is the largest event on the town’s social calendar.

The Karoonda Farm Fair provides a major economic boost to the small Mallee community each year.(Supplied: Karoonda Farm Fair)

The farming community has a population of about 500 residents, but the Karoonda Farm Fair attracts up to 7000 people across two days every year.

Last year, its scheduled date in early April coincided with the initial wave of COVID-19 cases and restrictions, and it was cancelled.

Organisers though have been busy planning for its return this year, with manager Ray Bald saying the event raises around $100,000 each year.

“A lot of the attractions we had last year, we were able to hold them for this year, and they’ve all agreed to come back.

“I think people are out there wanting to do something and wanting to have something happen and get out.”

Events are back, but with a difference

The Loxton Mardi Gras will be held at the Loxton Oval this year to a capped crowd.(Supplied: Loxton Mardi Gras)

Organisers and volunteers have been busy meeting SA Health requirements to hold events, that set to look very different from previous years.

The Loxton Mardi Gras, now in its 64th year, will have to move away from the town’s main street, where it is traditionally held.

The event, which includes a parade and raises money for the community, will be held at the Loxton Oval, so a capped crowd of 3000 people can be socially distanced.

“We were lucky with our timing last year, and I think we’ve learned to live in the world of COVID as to such time that vaccination comes along and allows us to be a bit more free,” Mardi Gras event coordinator Chris Sheahan said.

Community groups

Community and volunteer groups, the backbone of many regional towns, are also returning to holding regular meetings and events.

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, about 39 per cent of regional residents volunteer their time for a community organisation.

The older demographic of community group membership caused many to halt physical meetings to keep their members safe.

“We didn’t want any risks for our members,” Sing Australia Riverland leader Jacque Zagotsis said.

For community groups like Sing Australia Riverland, the return to more regular meet-ups is a welcome relief.(Supplied: Sing Australia Riverland)