Volunteers know the show must go on

23 February 2023

On his first shift at Moomba Festival, office worker Tien Phan didn’t expect to be leading a troupe of Latin dancers down Swanston Street. A decade later, this volunteer is ready for anything the Moomba long weekend might throw at him.

Most of the time, Tien Phan sits behind a desk in a high-rise city building.

But every now and then he finds himself on a cargo bike loaded up with speakers in the middle of the Moomba Parade.

“It’s a change of pace from my desk job. A chance to get out in the elements,” Tien said.

“At first I thought I would be just helping out. But then I was in the parade, setting the pace for a float.”

“Another time we had to marshal giant puppies and a giant spider in the parade. Their outfits had low-visibility so we made sure they didn’t crash into the next float. We had to stop them from overheating too,” Tien said.

A person wearing a pink shirt holding a giant toy dog head.
Volunteer Tien Phan gears up for the Moomba Parade

As a veteran volunteer who’s helped to make ten Moomba Festivals even more fabulous, Tien feels uniquely equipped to handle all sorts of quandaries. Ones that don’t come up in his day job.

“The most common question we get from visitors is where to find fairy floss. Or an ice cream – even when it’s cold or rainy. Who knows why?!”

He could be waving a green flag in the Birdman Rally to show how far each contender has jumped before splashing down into the Yarra River – Birrarung.

Or handing out maps, or helping with the circus, or pointing volunteers to the best vantage for the nightly fireworks – anywhere along the banks of the river in Alexandra Gardens.

An extra pair of hands

Tien was still at university when he first put his hand up to volunteer with the City of Melbourne, 13 years ago. He soon joined the International Student Welcome program to broaden his experience.

Now he’s a trusted go-to volunteer for our many major events throughout the year.

Duties can vary, but the core role is to be a beacon of information and customer service.

Volunteers are usually the first people that patrons meet at a major event. Amid thousands of fellow visitors, a friendly face can help everyone feel welcome, and tune in to festival vibes.

At Firelight Festival last year, Tien was one of 11 volunteers in a trial program, charged with reuniting visitors with lost property.

This year, Firelight is looking for up to 30 mid-winter volunteers.

Recruitment can be competitive for another iconic event, Melbourne Fashion Week. About 500 people applied to volunteer in 2022, and only 230 were rostered on. Tien was among them.

“Seeing models getting ready for the catwalk at the State Library was a new experience for me.”

But he quickly adjusted to guiding glamorous people through the library, fielding questions, giving out gift bags, and being on hand to bump in and bump out.

“The skills I’ve built up over many years of volunteering lend themselves to every opportunity. Just being an extra pair of hands.”

Right now, he’s gearing up for his eight shifts at Moomba Festival, which runs over five days from 9 to 13 March.

“In the early days, I had plenty of time up my sleeve to help out over the Labour Day long weekend,” Tien said.

A person wearing a pink shirt that says "#Moomba" directing people in a park.
Tien Phan in action at Moomba Festival

“Now I come back to Moomba to reconnect with other volunteers and make new friends. Embrace the opportunity, whatever it might be.”

Keep an eye out for Tien as you wander around a festival this year. He could be the first person you see. Or point you to the nearest ice cream truck.

If you’re lucky, you might spot him after a shift at Moomba, lining up with his fellow volunteers for a hot dog before they hit the carnival rides.

Find out how to volunteer with the City of Melbourne and get to know the types of roles that might suit you.

A smiling person in a pink shirt on a cargo bike with balloons
Tien sets off on his first Moomba assignment

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