Australia Day

By eight o’clock in the morning there were already people in the park. They were stretching out on their towels and marking out space. They were competing with each other, but keeping it civil, smiling a lot, and occasionally singing “Waltzing Matilda” and “Advance Australia Fair”.

Beach balls were inflated and tossed, rebounding off unsuspecting heads, disturbing the reading of the private, and provoking the competitive to more assertive forms of expression with backyard cricket bats and novelty fly swats, and the increased volume of portable stereos playing only Australian hits from the 70s, 80s and 90s.

By mid-morning the annual ferry race had been run and won, trailing gaudy streamers into the harbour, and entrepreneurs had set themselves up at strategic locations to sell overpriced hotdogs, and water in bottles, and Australian flags.

It was Australia Day and the sun was out.

Already some shirtless men were looking pink, and the proliferation of bikinis suggested that the sun smart message had not been entirely embraced. Skin was smeared with product, certainly, but in some cases this product seemed designed to intensify the rays rather than reduce their impact. Sunglasses and hats were worn, though, and the cork hat was also evident in quite a few places.

In the park it was an elaborate form of waiting. Waiting for something to happen. There had been talk of fireworks later, in the evening, when it was dark, but in the meantime there were jazz bands playing – no-one knew where from – and tall ships on the harbour, and vodka smuggled in with bottles of soft drink, but this was a secret and the police weren’t supposed to know.



In another park a few kilometres away a group of teenagers reclined on their bikes. They were bored and also drinking from a soft drink bottle. They threw rocks idly, at nothing in particular, and discussed going down to the dam. One of them shaped a short length of garden hose with his pocket knife.

On the other side of the park a group of people were setting up a barbeque and ten or more children played a chasing game while mothers supervised little ones and dads fiddled with tongs and stacks of bread. Many of the women wore a head scarf, and the teenagers on their bikes occasionally called out: “Fuckin’ curry munchers” or “Fuckin’ tea towel heads” – but those at the picnic were too far away and couldn’t hear.

After eating and more children’s games a game of cricket was organised, and kids were allowed to join in if they took it seriously. Women looked on from the shade of big umbrellas at picnic tables, occasionally laughing and pointing. They played all afternoon and didn’t notice the teenagers near the stormwater drain slope off after the change of innings.



Down the street small boys and girls played under the hose in the front yard of a house which looked much like the other houses on the street. They screamed with delight as the sun lowered and they tumbled on the lawn. Aunties and uncles looked on, in their thongs, smoking their smokes and drinking their VB. Inside the house a grandmother sat on the couch with littlies on either side and on the rug at her feet, and they watched a Dora The Explorer DVD on the television.

At three o’clock one of the aunties came in and retrieved a pavlova from the kitchen and took it outside. She was followed by nieces and nephews and granny, and paper plates were handed out and plastic forks too, and they all ate a slice of cake and were satisfied.

Then one of the uncles opened the Bundy and the kitchen was searched for cups and glasses.



“Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! … Oi! Oi! Oi!” chanted the British backpackers at the edge of the harbour in the now crowded park. They could still hear jazz from somewhere.



Teenagers swung on ropes and crashed into the water at the dam.

“Go on, show us,” said one teenaged boy. The boys wore only shorts and the girls improvised swimming garb from what they were wearing. The girl in question didn’t seem keen. She didn’t feel ready, she said.

“You dumb slut,” said the boy, and the other girls laughed.



In the apartment at the top of the building friends arrived to see their friends and spend the evening with friends. Dad was handed a glass of chablis and the kids found cookies and Coke in the kitchen.

The cat stirred from his beanbag and then went back to sleep.

Soon all the kids were playing the Xbox while the adults looked out the wall of wide windows, with a glass of wine in one hand and a piece of unpasteurised cheese in the other, and they watched the fireworks and compared them to New Year’s Eve’s and agreed that these were more “honest” somehow, more for ordinary people on their national day.

Published in: on February 3, 2012 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

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