I dont think anything like this ever happened before - not on this scale, not something so open. I guess what makes Perl special is all there - it's the people, it's the idea that Perl wont just be a practical reporting tool but a way to express oneself. Not all languages have a Larry Wall to tell the way and to let us all build them. I actively use and like Java, but let me tell you, there's not much seeking of beauty by the community at large. Perl is different.
On the other side, after all this time I have a feeling that your fears are a little premature - there's quite a bit of road ahead before we hit the post Perl6 milestone.... <grin>