Well, I don’t usually have anything much to do with Australia Day. Mainly I suppose for historical reasons – growing up in Western Australia there was little interest in celebrating the discovery of NSW by that Jamey Come Lately (long after William Dampier and Dirk Hartog in the west) Captain Cook, or its founding by Arthur Phillip. But in any case, nowhere was much of a big deal made about Australia Day until recent years. Maybe small local events, a citizenship ceremony perhaps, a backyard barbecue with friends, but that was about it. No Jingoism please, we’re Aussie.
But then suddenly the jingoism appeared, whipped up by politicians and the media, and suddenly every 26 January the streets seemed full of cars with flags on radio aerials, the paths blocked by people with flag capes, the parks full of bouncy castles, sausage sizzles and even more tuneless renditions of our already tuneless national anthem, and the shock jocks were dividing the country into two kinds of people – those who riotously and drunkenly celebrated Australia Day, and Un-Australians.
So I stayed away, more than a little embarrassed.
Until this year when an out of the blue (true blue) phone call told me I was getting an Australia Day Community Service Award in our nearest country town. So, off I went, a little celebration of first steroid-free day this cycle.
And it was ok. Yes, sausage sizzle. And yes, national anthem. And, yes, ok, bouncy castle. But it was all somehow subsumed under a blue sky. Politicians gave brief and not too embarrassing speeches, so did a couple of religious guys. But mostly it was about welcoming four New Australians, smilingly clutching citizenship certificates and Callistemons in pots. And especially about recognising and praising the community servers.
The high school girl, top of all her classes and volunteer in all kinds of activities; the teacher who has taught generations of children in a small country school for 35 years; the firefighter chief; the fifty year Rotary organiser; the community radio lady; the touch football organisers; the arts organiser; the newspaper that had organised bushfire information, and so on. All the warp and woof of the tapestry of country town life. People happy, proud, photos being snapped by relatives, applause being clapped under the shade of trees. Not a yobbo in sight.
It was, in fact, just quietly, between you and me, a bit of alright. Couldn’t have been done better in fact, but probably being done in similar style in many country towns around the nation.