Australia Day

annual events, holidays, restaurants, Sydney

You may have guessed from the fact that I was making my husband take Australian history quizzes with me on Australia Day Eve that I was more than a wee bit excited about the possibilities of the day. We’d planned out most of our day far ahead of time, which is most uncharacteristic for us, but since Partner-in-Crime had his first Australia Day last year, he had a good idea of what I would enjoy. Also, I told him, with more than a faint hint of eucalyptus and Five Year Old on Christmas Morning, “I want to see everything!”

Sydney set out a wildly impressive assortment of things, so I couldn’t actually see every one, but we did do our best.

We got up early to start the day with an Aboriginal ceremony at the Botanic Gardens. It was performed my members of different tribes from New South Wales – the Yuin Gurik, Booroobeongal, Warmuli, Garuna, Birapi, and Dhungutti. It was narrated by Uncle Max Dulumunmun Harrison, an elder of the Yuin people.

It opened with a traditional smoking ceremony “to awaken, cleanse, and honour the spirits of past inhabitants.” (Uncle Max and the smoking ceremony):
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A lot of the dances related to the relationship to nature, including an invocation to the sun, and several about animals and animal totem spirits.

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(Dancers lining up for the snake formation)


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(Dance about the trees)


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(Totem dance – sharks)


It was great to see a lot of young people participating in the ritual. It looked as if there were a lot of families taking part.

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This show ended up being so worth getting up early for. It was beautifully performed and provided a modern look at the Aboriginal ritual. I found it powerful enough that I got pretty choked up as I told P-i-C how much I’d enjoyed it. I hope we’ll make attending this ceremony part of our Australia Day from here on out.

From there, we wandered over to The Rocks to have breakfast at Pancakes on the Rocks, a hugely popular restaurant that is actually rather evocative of an American pancake house like IHOP. It was decked out in Australian flags and the few other diners at that early hour looked to be people who were also celebrating early or gearing up for the festivities. We filled ourselves up on enough pancakey goodness to feed a large family and then ventured back out.

We had to catch a ferry, and the route was filled with the beginnings of music, food stands, and street vendors. We picked up our complimentary Australian flags and played American tourists as we asked a fully decked out Aussie couple to take our photos with our flags in front of the Opera House.

Circular Quay was wild with people, and we had a bit of trouble locating our ferry because it had been rerouted to a different ferry dock due to the “Ferrython” that was to start in an hour or so. Throngs of ANZ Bank employees lined up to get onto the dock we thought we were supposed to be on, but some friendly ferry employees pointed us in the right direction.

Hitting the water at that time proved to be a great idea because a lot of the boats for the Ferrython (a parade/race of Sydney ferries, all decked out in their corporate finery, a la NASCAR) and the later boat parade were headed in the same direction we were, so for a time, we were amongst quite the throng of costumed sea vessels.

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Our destination was Mimi and Joe’s, where we planned to spend the afternoon picnicking and watching the eventss on the Harbour. We grabbed a spot in the shade that was prime real estate, except for a nearby party that began quietly enough with about four folks sipping beers under a tent, but slowly grew to a throng of about 20-25, complete with barbecue, free diving into the Harbour, and the TOP 100 SONGS!!! blaring dance-pop vacuosness on the radio. Honestly, they were having a perfectly innocent and fun time – it actually looked quintessentially Aussie – so, I don’t mean to cast aspersions upon them. We were simply too close with our much lower key lawn yawning.

Regardless, we followed our Australia Day timetable, and watched one event after another in the Harbour.

First the Ferrython, which proved rather anticlimactic from our vantage point. Then, the boat parade, which took on a ghostly tenor, as a dramatic fog had swept over the city.

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“What’s next!?!,” I chirped after each display. …

“21 gun salute …” “Parachuting Red Berets …” “F/A-18 flyover …”

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The flyover was particularly rad because, as the fighter craft did circles around the Harbour, we got the impression that it was turning around right in front of us … a real treat for someone who grew up on Top Gun.

Late in the afternoon, we bid adieu to Mimi and Joe and caught the ferry back to see the evening celebrations at Darling Harbour.

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(Cute kid, Darling Harbour)

A lot of the evening was about fighting for space to see anything at all in the hyper crowded crescent, but we did pretty well sneaking ourselves into crevices by bullying small children (kidding … well, only the particularly annoying ones). There were a number of official festivities with fantastic pomp and circumstance. The stage was a barge floating in the harbour, and all of the participants arrived by boat. Several “Australian of the Year” awards were given out, a handful of new Australian citizens were introduced and paraded around (I became rather pre-occupied with the idea of getting myself on that boat in four years), and several government officials addressed the crowd.

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(Marie Bashir, Governor of New South Wales speaks to the crowd. The woman in the grey dress to her left is Kristine Keneally – the Premier of NSW and an American expat).


My favorite part of the event was the parading of government service boats, as they were introduced to the crowd and “inspected” by the Governor and Premier (basically, they looked on and smiled).

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By the end of the night, I was feeling quite done with the crowds and as if I’d had enough festivity, but P-i-C – knowing my inner 5 year old had not wandered too far afoot – suggested that we make one more push in order to see the finale.

He was right. It was beautiful. It began with a dreamy parade of illuminated sailboats …

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THEN, the magic almost became too much when one of the tall ships floated slowly into harbour in a red glow …

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I did have to silently chastise myself for not knowing the Australian national anthem when it came time to sing it (I realized that I’d better learn it, and learn it good, if I want to get on that citizen boat). I did the hum-pretend to sing-move my lips around thing for all except the parts where I’d pick up like an expert … “hmmm/hmmm/for we are young and free/hmmm/hmmm/hmmm/our home is girt by sea/hmmm/hmmm/advance Australia fair/hmmm/hmmm/Advance Australia fair …”. And then, as it continued, I turned to P-i-C … “THERE’S A SECOND VERSE?” (insert more humming).

Lots of studying to do.

In any case, the moment was short-lived because -as any good event in Sydney must, we ended with fireworks. It was a massive display. Not New Year’s Eve massive, but massively impressive. Fireworks shot from the Harbour, as well as the roofs of the nearby buildings.

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Honestly, the whole day was a spectacle of epic proportions … the kind that warms my magic-loving heart … a wild way to spend a Wednesday.

5 thoughts on “Australia Day

  1. Cassie

    I must confess that when I first learned the words to the anthem in primary school I was way too young to understand what they meant:

    “Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
    We’ll toil with hearts and hands”

    Perhaps I misunderstood and heard “soil” instead of “toil” idk… but I always picture a zombie rising from the grave under a night sky when I sing that bit.

    And I still do!

    (ps heaps of Aussies don’t even know the full words to the anthem!)

  2. C. In Oz

    That’s a hilarious image, Cassie! The U.S. anthem is just as bad … I mean, what in the world is a rampart? And, based on the recent Super Bowl, I’d say that plenty of Americans don’t know our anthem, either. But, I’m determined that I will learn Australian one!

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