Today, the twenty-sixth of January, marks the national celebration of Australia Day. The date has traditionally been a hot one, as it occurs in the middle of summer. The twenty-sixth is a designated public holiday in all states and territories across the country. Given that it falls on a Sunday this week, the following day (Monday) is observed as the holiday. This completes the long weekend. This year has likewise been different from past celebrations, as the bushfire crisis in various states has lent both organisers and denizens pause. Meanwhile, the lights display at night has been one of the annual highlights of the weekend. However, some councils have elected to forego the dazzling display in solidarity to the bushfire victims. Some have even donated the allocated funds to bushfire appeals.
Allow me to give you a short history of ‘Straya day. The day marks the founding of the nation in 1788. Specifically, this recognises the docking of the First Fleet of British settlers onto Sydney, New South Wales (NSW). The roots of Aussie Day could be traced back as early as 1808, with the first celebration of the NSW colony done in 1818. In the first day of 1901, the British proclaimed Oz as a federation, signifying the dawn of modern Oz. Enter the search for a national day. Until 1935, not all states used the term Australia Day to register the date, and not till ’94 that the date would be a uniform public holiday across the country.
Displays and Lamb
There are various events around town, including the annual hot air balloon festival in Parramatta; boat shows in Darling Harbour; and open day at Government House. Straya day has been long associated with recognising model Aussies and welcoming new Aussies. Citizenship ceremonies are a staple of the day, as are community awards at both local and state levels. The day reflects the diversity of the nation, which makes Oz tick. The marked heat typifying the national day makes it ideal for barbeques. The barbies are indiscriminate, whether in Podunk homes, outdoors, or on the beach. If it’s not beef cuts, then it’s probably ice cream. The dessert is just as ubiquitous across pools and street corners. The barbies have even crossed over to television, with ads specifically meant for Australia Day. Through the years, there’s been a few dedicated to urging Aussies to patronise lamb. Some of these ads feature a retired footballer whose life mission is for all Australians to guzzle lamb. Even popular news anchors have gotten in on the quest.
I can remember one of my first Australia Days. I was with my relatives as we met up in the city. We had lunch together before heading to Darling Harbour. The breeze was an obvious contrast to the humid air in the rest of town. I recall that there were horses, and the area was packed with parents, kids, and teeners. The Labour Premier alighted from a small ship and shook hands with the crowd. The kids were having a blast basking in the fountains, while the rest were toting Aussie flags. Afterwards, we left on the same train before they had to transit.
Of course, commemorating the planting of the British flag on Aussie soil is bound to meet some adversity. The Aborigines proclaim that this was their land centuries before the Brits appropriated this as their own. Instead of acknowledging Australia Day, the Indigenous have called it ‘Invasion Day’ and ‘National Day of Mourning’. The counter-celebration has moved for the date to be altered or done away completely. Recent observances have included some Indigenous events. This year’s Straya Day coincides with Lunar New Year (observed yesterday). The weekend also falls in the middle of the Australian Open, the first tennis grand slam of the calendar. We take pride in our tennis heroes, fully supporting them in their quest to carry the Aussie flag at the Open. In last night’s five-set marathon, Nick Kyrgios escaped by the skin of his teeth. The loyal crowd greatly aided his cause in the end. The catch about national days is that they can never please everyone. My dad once quoted his dear friend, ‘You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time.’
Happy Australia Day!