One of the great days of the year occurs near the end of every January. It’s the day when the whole of Australia celebrates our very existence, the day when we congratulate and reward the many who have done something to serve this wonderful country and its people, during the previous twelve months. It’s also the day that, especially in small towns and villages, everyone gets together with friends and neighbours, to ‘catch up’ on the local gossip and news.
I am referring of course to Australia Day, the 26th of January, an immovable date, so that celebrations will literally be on any day of the week, including Sundays, as is happening this year. In Yarram, the party starts at eight thirty in the morning in the Memorial Park, where the local Rotary Club members prepare sausages, steaks, eggs and coffee, under the shelter of the large rotunda situated there. Soon after, townspeople start to arrive, mainly in small groups, many of them carrying their own folding chairs, Australian flags, funny hats and spare clothing, depending on the state of the weather.
It’s not very long before the music starts up, from a (somewhat) cranky old CD player and the air is filled with chatter and laughter, as the party gets under way.
The reporter from the local newspaper wanders about, taking photographs and chatting to the people sitting or standing around, obviously hoping to get a story containing some original material for the next edition – a hopeless task really, because the very essence of this day is that all is the same as last year’s event. All the usual faces are there, the same town residents who come to this event, the only noticeable difference being the ones who haven’t made it this time, sadly due to illness or death. The reporter can be seen trying to gather subjects into photographable groups that will look nice in her paper, then trying to stop them wandering away while she writes down all their names in the same order that they appear in the photo – to a lot of people this is one of the most important parts of the morning, being in one of the pictures, with your name clearly spelt out. People get quite angry if their name isn’t accurate alongside the photograph!
After about an hour or so of the party atmosphere, the President of the Rotary Club picks up a microphone that sometimes works, calls everyone to order and commences the business of the day – a series of speeches first, from the President himself, then the Shire Councillor and if he’s managed to get there, the local member of either the State, or the Federal Government. All are politely clapped as they finish, all say much the same as they said last year and most of those present aren’t actually listening anyway, so it really doesn’t matter… Private conversations are always more important and interesting than the words of a few local officials! Next come the announcements of who has won the various annual local awards including Citizen of the Year, Senior Citizen of the Year and Junior Citizen of the Year, all people who have truly done their bit in looking after the town and the less fortunate of its population, the sick, the aged and the infirm. Then the show gradually breaks up as people wander off to get on with the business of the day, the lawn mowing, the fishing, the boozing, (for some!), and the private parties at home.
This is a picture, or something very like it, to be seen in towns and villages all over Australia. It’s the day of the year when we all take stock of ourselves, take pride in our Country and take the opportunity to spend some quality time with friends.
Let us just hope that the politically correct crowd don’t try to put the ‘mockers’ on this very special day, as they have with so many other traditions. This is the day that all true Australians really love, and none, I’m sure will want it changed in any way!
What does your town or community do on Australia Day? What are your traditions?
The painting used in this article was done by Jacqui Lee on Australia Day two years ago.