Australia Day sort of happened to me a bit too quickly. I haven’t been here very long. It was a bit sudden.
I have never much gone for doing the Fireworks Event on these sorts of occasions. I find them a bit Big and a bit Much. There is always a Fireworks Event. On Canada Day, I have done large-scale community pancake breakfasts, and I like them. To me they always have the feel of a giant campsite crossed with a country fair, as if we have all emerged from our tents and caravans after one of those chilly-yet-magical nights of sleep you only get from camping, to a beautiful broad July morning that is suddenly and arrestingly in a showground, where there is a tannoy broadcasting the national anthem, some vintage cars, and a beautiful dreadlocked girl in a sarong doing henna tattoos. But I’ve never done the Fireworks Event.
Well, in Australia, naturally there is no community Canadian pancake breakfast. (In fact, every Australian person so far to whom I have explained a Canadian breakfast has gone ‘yuck’ and made me feel bad about one of the very few meals I could offer to cook really well for them. Just by the by.)
So really, the only way for me to see What Australians Do On Australia Day was to go to the Fireworks Event.
I actually set off for the F.E with a flea in my ear, put there by a charming and friendly neighbour whom I had mistakenly asked along. I was treated to a spectacular rant about how sitting watching fireworks – an entirely non-participatory activity – is typical of this country, and how if people wanted to make something of Australia Day they should jolly well do something active, instead of sit on the beach drinking beer pretending that sitting watching thousands of dollars go up in smoke has any sort of national significance or resonance whatsoever.
So that was a cheering start.
After backing carefully down the driveway making calming noises, I went to the local museum. There was an exhibition about swimsuits! This is very Australian, I thought, ie beaches and competitive swimming and that sort of thing.
Next, I went to watch the citizenship ceremony. Something about when people choose to be a citizen of a place. It’s not yours just because. It’s yours because you really wanted it to be. It was a good atmosphere. Participatory, you might say. All of the new citizens were given a tiny Golden Wattle plant. When each person was called up to receive his or her certificate, then he or she read out the next person’s name. So your first duty as a new citizen was to welcome the next new citizen.
Then, sausages. From a barbecue. That is ten points right there in the Big Book of Australiana (listed, incidentally, just before stings, jellyfish, which is twenty).
And later, gathering on the beach ready for the fireworks. There were many picnics and tiny barbecues with more sausages, and a very large and convivial group of elegant old people, and many families, and people swimming, and even a guy with a big blue plastic canoe thing, and several games of cricket. There were a lot of people on mobile phones telling other people on which bit of the beach they could be found, and then there were people carrying food and towels and blankets exchanging warm greetings with the mobile phone people, having successfully found them.
It was windy. I got sand in my tea. People around me talked about all the other years they’ve been down to watch the fireworks from the beach like this. There was the year Reuben got lost. That first year with the babies. The big to-do with Aunty Peggy that time, which year was that? The time we sat and watched the fireworks from the water because it was just too hot to come out. And the year all those boys did that thing with the...remember?
And we all sat together and watched thousands of dollars go up in smoke.