26 January. Australia Day.
On Australia Day, Aussies gather together to celebrate their country and their nationhood. It is also the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of convict ships from Great Britain in 1788. Although 26 January marks this event, these days the celebrations reflect modern-day Australia: with its diverse society and landscape, its people, actual acknowledgment to the traditional owners of the land (as this wasn’t done for many years until a few years ago), the past achievements and future prospects of the country and it’s people.
Australia Day is a public holiday for most people (unless you are my brother and had to work half a day). Traditionally, the day is spent gathering together with others under the sun over a BBQ, a few drinks (alcoholic or non-alcoholic – your choice), a whole lot of Aussie music – or listening to the Triple J Hottest 100 (an annual count down of the best songs of the previous years on the Triple J radio station – as voted by the listeners), and when the sun sets, the fireworks begin (these seem to be held in every suburb these days). People then try to make their way home to sleep and get up for work the next day sore and sorry or themselves.
I appreciate Australia Day for the many reasons I have described, but this year have chosen to spend it at home with my partner and my dog, our new paddling pool (for grown ups), some drinks and food, some music, and just some general R&R.
This wasn’t always the case. Growing up I never wanted to stay in Australia. I was always on the look out for another place to live as ‘their’ culture, ‘their’ architecture, ‘their’ people, and ‘their’ accents were so much ‘better’. That was until I found myself living and working in the UK. After some unsavoury experiences where I ran out of money and was forced to learn the hard way about the true nature of people, I found myself surrounded by a whole group of Aussies in the Walkabout Pub (a chain of Aussie bars across the UK and Europe) in Bristol. The DJ was playing ‘Working Class Man‘ by Jimmy Barnes, and a load of other old-school Aussie music. The bar staff were serving up Tim Tams (chocolate coated biscuits), accompanied by temporary Aussie flag tattoos, of which they would apply for you. And there was a whole lot of Aussie beer on offer. I suddenly had this feeling of unity. Of being with like-minded people. Of being accepted. The fact that we were all travellers from the same place, in this one place, together, celebrating something we had all chosen to escape from – it was strangely comforting, liberating and joyful.
I don’t know what it was. Maybe the homesickness and loneliness. Possibly the English weather. It was definitely the bad experiences and the constant criticism I had received from the Bristol-ians on my accent, the words I used, the way I dressed, my hair, on being Australian – anything and everything really. I just felt so happy. I felt like I had come home – even if it was just for a few hours. I’ve never seen a group of people celebrate Australia Day like we did on that night. We – a bunch of strangers – danced, sung, hugged, laughed, talked, CRIED!
I never saw any of the people I met that night again, but I will always treasure the Australia Day I spent in the UK.
You can find more information on Australia Day at the following link: