Heritage fair shows Habana’s special community
FRANK, Habana's town dog, was happy to watch as several women busily created tags that will soon adorn bottles of Habana Church Commemorative Wine.
Set up in the Habana Community Shed with various tables and eclectic chairs, they worked as a team to create 300 labels in one morning.
As they neatly threaded twine through old pieces of wood they recalled childhood memories and spoke about their love of Habana.
"Growing up in Habana it was a close community - we all knew each other," Margaret Borg (nee Refalo) said.
The women remembered the rivalry between Habana and Farleigh, popular games of tennis and school concerts.
Some recalled how the town's hall had been a popular venue for music concerts and dances, attracting people from other towns.
Habana had been a thriving hub, with two schools, a post office, a butcher, a blacksmith, a tennis court and a grocery store - home to people who worked in the sugar and dairy industries.
Over time the population declined and shops, schools and other amenities disappeared but not the community spirit.
Rita Harmsworth (nee Sant) said the town had once been considered isolated. That isolation, as well as the hills and rocky terrain, helped to create the nickname "The Pits".
"Everybody used to look down at us because we lived in Habana," she said.
But community pride helped the residents stand up for their home.
The town would be further isolated during the wet season.
Mrs Borg remembered her father, Joe Refalo, the town's blacksmith, helping to ferry two pregnant women across a swollen creek during a flood.
Mrs Harmsworth's sister, Doris Gravino, has lived in Habana her entire life.
The sisters were two of 11 children born to Maltese immigrants.
Mrs Gravino said her fondest childhood memories included horses and the beach.
"It was paradise with the horses, cattle and cane," she said.
"In the early days were rode horses to school."
The group said there was something special about Habana, its close-knit community and its pride in Italian, Maltese and South Sea Islander cultures.
The general consensus was, neighbours help out each other.
Now, the population of the area is growing again, with families returning to taken advantage of open space and the scenic landscape.
The wine tags being created by the women honour the history of the area, especially the buildings of Sts Peter and Paul Catholic Church (1928-1972), Habana Convent School (1951-1968) and Sts Peter and Paul Catholic Church (1972-2017).
"It's a special project we've been working on. Each bottle of wine comes with a short history of the Habana Church and Convent School plus your very own piece of wood from the building," Palmina Rae from the Habana and Districts Progress Association said.
"This is a fundraiser to help us cover the costs of renovating the Habana Community Hall. They will be available for purchase at the upcoming Moonlight Dinner and Heritage Fair."
Over the years Habana's old church building was used as a school, church, event hall and meeting place. It was saved by the association and will be used again as a wedding venue in August 2020. That occasion will mark 15 years since a marriage ceremony has been held in the church.
The association will host its sold-out Habana Dinner by Moonlight Saturday night for 230 guests. It will be followed by the Habana Heritage Fair on Sunday from 10am to 4pm.
The weekend functions mark 20 years since the first Back to Habana event was held in 1999. It attracted close to 3000 people.
The three-day reunion celebrated Habana's history, culture, diversity and character. Past and present residents, their families and the public came out in force to enjoy activities including tours, memorabilia displays, demonstrations, dinner and dancing.
When food supplies got low, locals raided their own kitchens to supply bread, sausages and onions to serve the hungry crowd.
This year's Heritage Fair will be held at the Habana Community Grounds, a 20-minute drive from Mackay.
The event will include market stalls, displays of vintage machinery, Habana heritage, free kids activities including a jumping castle, petting zoo and sand art, traditional Italian cannoli and Maltese pastizzi.
Entertainment also includes performances by talented ukulele players, a Circle of Song choir, and Rural Fire Brigade demonstrations.
"There is no Greenmount Heritage Fair this year so we thought we could share our Habana Heritage with the community," market co-ordinator Palmina Rae said
"Parking is just on the side of the road so be prepared for a short but pleasant walk. There will be a designated set-down area for people needing assistance, just notify the parking attendants (Rural Fire personnel) and they can direct you."