Among the many Moomba traditions is one of the festival’s longest-running and most regal; the crowning of the Moomba Monarchs. And in 2023 we add two more monarchs to the honour roll – stars of the screen and stage, Rob Mills and Rhonda Burchmore.
It’s widely believed the Moomba Monarchs tradition began as a tribute to popular European carnivals, with the intention to poke fun at royalty.
In the early years, Moomba Queens were chosen by way of a beauty pageant with the winning Queen leading the Moomba parade atop a swan-shaped float.
Moomba Kings were introduced in 1967 and were often popular film, TV or entertainment personalities.
Over the years, the monarchy went through several changes, with the beauty pageants eventually canned, trialling a singular all-gender title, and even a period where the monarchy was disbanded and a republic formed.
Let’s take a brief look back at some of Moomba’s most iconic monarchs.
Sir Douglas Nicholls – 1973
Sir Douglas (Doug) Nicholls, prominent Yorta Yorta man, celebrated footballer, church pastor and pioneer for reconciliation, was crowned King of Moomba in 1973.
Sir Nicholls was a respected leader in Melbourne and across the country, having been active in the Aboriginal civil rights movement, a founding member of the Aborigines’ Advancement League in Victoria and Governor of South Australia.
This wasn’t Sir Nicholl’s first experience with royalty. Just a year before donning the Moomba crown, Sir Nicholls was appointed Knight Bachelor – the first Aboriginal man to be knighted.
Frank Thring – 1982
Australian film, television, stage and radio actor, Frank Thring, was crowned Moomba King in 1982. Famous for his roles in Ben-Hur and King of Kings, Frank brought his trademark flamboyant style and theatrical personality to the crown.
Riding atop a thespian-inspired float and clad in custom-made golden robes – designed and constructed by Melbourne Theatre Company staff – Frank bought Hollywood magic to the Moomba parade.
Frank’s custom bejewelled robes, sceptre and crown are now part of City of Melbourne’s Art and Heritage Collection.
Jo Pearson – 1988
The tradition of gender-specific King and Queen titles was replaced with a singular, non-gendered monarch title in 1988. Popular TV newsreader, journalist and producer Jo Pearson took the inaugural honours, ending the era of beauty pageant queens.
Over the following years, a number of prominent women wore the monarch crown, including performer Marina Prior, Olympic champion Cathy Freeman and entertainer Denise Drysdale.
Community and Emergency Services – 2013
Breaking with tradition, Moomba crowned eight community organisations as the Moomba Monarchs for 2013.
Representatives from organisations including Victoria Police, St John Ambulance, Salvation Army, Country Fire Authority, Metropolitan Fire Brigade, Victoria State Emergency Services, Ambulance Victoria, and the Department of Sustainability and Environment were all crowned.
Following the theme of celebrating community heroes, cleaner Pravini Fernando, infectious diseases physician Kirsty Buising and supermarket worker Drew Law were crowned Moomba Monarchs in 2021.
Shane Warne – 2015
Cricketing legend and one of the country’s favourite personalities Shane Warne was crowned Moomba King in 2015.
Ruling alongside Melbourne Bollywood star Pallavi Sharda, the Aussie larrikin said that the Moomba crown was “the best thing I’ve ever worn on my head” – big words from a man who wore the baggy green.
Feel the buzz at Moomba
Moomba magic returns to Melbourne this Labour Day Weekend 9-13 March, with free events for all ages along the banks of the Yarra River. And this year’s Moomba is bigger and better than ever, with an extra day of programming added, delivering five days of fun for the whole family.
Plan your journey and discover Moomba’s wide range of family-friendly events and attractions at Moomba.