Monday Memoir: Australia Day

Monday Memoir BadgeBy Linda Stewart

Australia Day, 26 January, is the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from Great Britain, and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove by its commander Captain Arthur Phillip, in 1788 (you can read a comprehensive history of the evolution of Australia Day here).

Today is  Australia Day when most of the nation celebrates what is great about Australia and being Australian. It is the day Australians reflect on their achievements as a people and the things of which they are proud. Nationalism knows no bounds on this one day in the year when they declare it as a day to re-commit to making Australia an even better place for the future.

“This day of taking possession, 26 January, is today the largest annual public event in Australia. Over two thirds of Australians actively celebrate Australia Day. It is also variously known as an Aboriginal Day of Mourning, Invasion Day and Survival Day. Inevitably, the day brings to mind past injustices in Australia’s history and the great losses suffered by indigenous Australians.  Today the day has become one of both commemoration and celebration. It commemorates the survival of the Aboriginal people in the face of overwhelming odds. And 26 January events celebrate the increasingly respectful interaction of Aboriginal and European cultures”. (Thank you:  Sydney Close Up)

As no other day in the year Australian patriotism is on boisterous display,   Celebrations are loud and big (think little America) and finally end with a big bang as fireworks, worth millions of dollars, light the skies across the nation. Today is one big deal.  It is a time to reflect on the country’s history and to celebrate the diversity across all aspects of society.  Because I have lived in three countries where racial discrimination has been rife please forgive me when I say it is wonderful to see people celebrating for the sheer joy of it.  Of course there is a time to reflect, mournfully and with shame, on how indigenous people have been and continue to be treated, but for just one day it is lovely to forget all the hurt and ugliness of the past and look towards the horizon.

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We arrived in the winter of 2003 thinking we were on a two year ‘holiday’ from our home in New Zealand.  But Australia wound its web about us, drew us in and we thought it had embraced our commitment to employment and the local community.  When it was time to think of returning home, the MOTH was no less inclined to leave than a dog is inclined to give up a meaty bone.  And here we are, still … eleven and a half years on … and it is Australia Day, again.

Although we live a two hour train ride from Sydney, our first two Australia Days were celebrated in Sydney where we immersed ourselves  in all celebrations that are Australian.  We accepted tattoos – transfers –  of the flag and proudly wore them on our cheeks; we donned silly hats with flags sticking from them and took shameless selfies all over Circular Quay and Darling Harbour.  We celebrated big time, we loved it and no we weren’t intoxicated.

Celebrations take place all over Australia and each city marks the day by putting its unique stamp on the festivities.  Sydney, however, is where it is done on the grandest scale with the harbour ferrython at midday, the 10km wheelchair race, The Rocks artisans’ fair, street theatre is ramped up for the day and the noise is unbelievable.  It seems Australians get a bad rap for their drinking behaviours but on both occasions we visited Sydney in the throes of Australia Day activities we did not see one intoxicated person.  When the occasion is this serious, Australians come out to play and they play nice.

Aussie Thongs Neither the MOTH nor I had been so caught up in the sheer jubilation of patriotism since, well … long ago.  The last time I felt as euphoric, as I did at those Australia Day celebrations, was at the Oktoberfest in Munich in the 1970s but we won’t say anymore about that …

Our plan was to head down to the big smoke of Sydney on the early train this morning.  However, when the alarm went off nice and early, the rain was pouring down and bed was snug and warm.  Instead we will take a drive up to Newcastle and see what is happening up there.  Each city celebrates the day with great fanfare and Newcastle will not disappoint.

All that is left to do is to wish my Australian followers a Happy Australia Day, Mate, and to thank the rest of you for visiting.

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Monday Memoir: Australia Day

  1. Hope your day in Newie was great. 🙂 It probably rained there as it did here. We went to Speers Point, but there were no crowds. We then went to the shopping centre at Glendale, and there were people everywhere.
    One of the tings you didn’t mention were the Australia Day Awards. I am proud to announce that one of our writing group received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) for his work over many years as an army and police padre. He’s a great guy, and a great writer too. 🙂

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