TWO of Ballina's icons will be the stars of the shire's newest festival.
November 16 is the date for the inaugural "Ballina Prawn Festival celebrating 40 years of Las Balsas". Las Balsas is the name of the raft expedition which arrived in Ballina from Ecuador in 1973.
As part of the lead-up to the festival, a mystery needs to be solved - to find the Salvador Dali painting that came to Ballina with the three rafts and, it is believed, was for a time held in a local bank vault.
It is understood that the artwork was given to the expedition members as insurance to be sold if they got into difficulty and needed cash.
But it is not known what happened to the painting.
Nadia Eliott-Burgess, executive officer of the Ballina Chamber of Commerce, is the co-ordinator of the event, with two consultants in the project team.
She said the decision was made to incorporate prawns into the theme to broaden the scope of the festival - and the Big Prawn sits at the southern entrance to Ballina.
"After losing Rivafest (a previous festival), Ballina lost a key signature event celebrating the coastal lifestyle," she said.
"This is an opportunity to re-establish an annual event.
"And the Las Balsas raft expedition is an amazing story of adventure."
Some of the events now being planned include a team raft race, where rafts are built to set specifications, a prawn-peeling competition and a raft model-making competition.
Ms Eliott-Burgess said if the Dali painting could be found, it was hoped it might be sent to Ballina for the celebration.
There are plans to bring back former crew members as well, and the Ecuadorian ambassador has indicated he would like to attend a formal dinner.
Council is chipping in $10,000 for the festival and $5000 for the dinner, and the Federal Government has granted $25,000 to the event.
The festival will be held around the Ballina Naval and Maritime Museum.
Ms Eliott-Burgess would like to hear from anyone who has details about the Dali, or who wants to get involved in the festival.
Phone her on 6681 5049.
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