THE Stratford Mechanics Institute was packed on Wednesday night to officially welcome the Stratfords of the World to Australia.
Ahead of a week of activities for delegates from Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and New Zealand, the visitors were treated to a choir featuring the Cultural Connections group, and the Gippsland Grammar string quartet.
This is the second time Stratford, Victoria, has hosted the Stratfords of the World, and it follows 2016’s meeting, in Stratford-upon-Avon in the UK, where participants marked 400 years since the death of Shakespeare.
The Shakespeare link is the common thread between the sister cities, which has spawned friendships across the globe.
Many of the delegates said they were excited to see old friends again, often staying at their houses.
Daphne Campbell, from Prince Edward Island in Canada, helped to host the meeting there in 2012. She said the hospitality here in Gippsland was amazing.
“Our Stratford is similar to your Stratford in that there’s a lot of agriculture, and we don’t have a large storefront or a big town; we feel we have a lot in common,” she said.
“I really like the camaraderie, and when we all get together and do a number at the concert, every year it’s different — we all have our own particular twists on it.”
Stratford Sister Cities Victoria president Kevin Waddington said the week would be full of surprises.
“I went out to Tullamarine on the coach to meet them all, and at the airport — they said they didn’t expect such a huge airport — and we picked up 10 at the airport and picked up all the Kiwis at Southern Cross,” he said.
“They were a wonderful bunch on the coach all the way down — they were singing their heads off,” he said.
Participants got to tour Walhalla and Lakes Entrance last week, experienced a taste of indigenous culture at the Knob Reserve and watched a play performed by young people from Gippsland and Canada on Saturday.
The festivities will end on Tuesday with a breakfast at the memorial park.