Stratfords of the World

Alex Ford

IT only comes around every two years, and this time, it’s our Stratford’s time to shine.

The Stratford Sister Cities’ Stratfords of the World event begins this week, with a civic reception to welcome visitors from all over the world.

This includes the Stratford in New Zealand’s North Island, the Stratford near Ontario, the Stratford on Prince Edward Island in Canada, the Stratford in Connecticut, USA, and the original, Stratford-upon Avon, in Warwickshire, England.

Each Stratford will send representatives to Australia, and some have already begun arriving.

According to the Stratford, Victoria committee, it’ll be an action-packed week.

The Gippsland Times caught up with the committee as it packed welcome showbags, which feature exclusive Sister Cities merchandise, maps and flyers of tourist attractions, and a sample of Vegemite.

Committee member Hilary Rash, who will be attending her 10th Stratfords of the World meet, said the week was a valuable experience.

“It’s about friendship,” she said.

“We’re the smallest by far, we’re a rural community, whereas some of the other Stratfords, like in England, they’re big cities, even New Zealand’s bigger than us.”

Another committee member, Helen Farley, added there was plenty of special things planned, with some, including an indigenous culture day at the Knob Reserve and a performance at the Wedge, open to the public.

“It’ll kick off with a civic reception at 6pm, we’ll be featuring a welcome song especially written for the occasion and the Cultural Connections group will be performing a welcome dance, backed up by the Stratford Singers,” she said.

“There’s day trips planned to Lakes Entrance, Walhalla, the Botanic Garden in Sale, a tour featuring older buildings in Sale — we’ve got some free time too, and a combined church service at Trinity, it’s Shakespeare’s church.”

The Shakespeare Festival is a key component, according to Beth Ripper, and this year, there would be a special performance.

“That ’s what links us all, Shakespeare,” she said.

“The friendship alliance is underpinned by the Shakespeare festivals, and they learn a lot from us, and we learn a lot from them.”

Ms Ripper said the festival had the first international youth theatre ensemble, that would give a performance of The Tempest on the Saturday afternoon, which had included online rehearsals between the Stratfords.

“We’re hoping in the future we’ll have young people from other Stratfords that will come together and practice online then perform.”

Ms Farley said there was a lot to look forward to for the visitors and the hosts.

“It’s a sharing of different cultures, and actually meeting people in their own home, I think that’s very important, wherever you go,” she said.

“For us, it’s to be able to share some of our favourite places we can take them too, our lovely natural countryside.”

For more information, visit the Stratford Victoria Sister Cities page on Facebook.