Jack O’Hagan wrote the theme for the City of Melbourne’s first Moomba, the largest free community festival in Australia, which takes place on Victoria’s Labour Day long weekend from the 6th to 9th March 2020.
Credit: AAP Image/David Crosling
He first watched the Labour Day parade when he was a little boy. The O’Hagans knew the Coles family of Cole’s Book Arcade, reputedly the largest bookshop in the world in the early 1900s, running through from Collins to Bourke Streets. Every April both families watched the Eight Hour Day procession – eight hours work, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest – first celebrated in 1856, held annually for ninety-five years and now honoured in March as Labour Day. It commemorated the struggle that changed conditions from the exploitation of workers doing 14 hours a day during the early 19th century Industrial Revolution and led to Australia’s fair work conditions, egalitarian society and one of the most progressive labour environments in the world by the early 20th century. Workers with banners, flamboyant floats and bright brass bands marched through the city. Tens of thousands of people in their Sunday best lined both sides of the road. The parade was a highlight of Jack’s young life.
The first Moomba was a 15-day festival officially opened on 12 March 1955 by the State Governor, Sir Dallas Brooks. The Moomba Organising Committee commissioned a song from Jack O’Hagan for the festival. He wrote the first verse music and lyrics – an introduction with a jazzy, almost tribal drumming treatment – before swinging into a melody everybody knew for quick uptake of his Moomba chorus. He chose ‘When You’re Smiling, the Whole World Smiles With You’ (1928) by American songwriters Larry Shay, Mark Fisher and Joe Goodin, a song recorded by Louis Armstrong in 1929 and Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Billy Holiday in the 1950s. Jack’s terrific, swinging ‘Moomba’ was recorded by Geoff Brooke, the Parker Sisters and Lou Toppano’s Band for the Mercury label. The lyrics were published in the Sun. 3AW’s Philip Brady recently nominated it as a significant Australian recording and one of his favourite Jack O’Hagan works.
1st Verse Moomba, Moomba, Melbourne for the Moomba –
Moomba means a meeting place for joy.
Moomba, Moomba, Melbourne for the Moomba –
There’ll be fun for every girl and boy.
Moomba is a native word, pure aborigine
Melbourne is the place where its true meaning you will see.
Chorus Come to Melbourne for the Moomba
Give yourself a wonderful time,
Come to Melbourne for the Moomba
Where the world will be in rhyme.
There’ll be dancing, romancing, to keep you up to par,
This week of carnival will be Melbourne’s Mardi Gras.
So come to Melbourne for the Moomba,
Let your hair down, join in the fun.
Come to Melbourne for the Moomba,
Where there’ll be joy for everyone.