Australia Day is celebrated on January 26 and bonus, it’s a public holiday. Normally we spend the day with family or friends or even both, enjoying a traditional Australian lunch of lamb and snags cooked on the barbie with pavlova for dessert.
But this Australia Day was different because Alfie was asked to sing in a School’s Choir where they would perform at the Lord Mayor’s Citizenship Ceremony on a point of the harbour sandwiched between the Harbour Bridge and the Sydney Opera House.
We were up early and taking the advice of the weather bureau that predicted rain, rain and more rain, we armed ourselves with umbrellas and took a ferry into Circular Quay. It was 9am but already the Quay was crowded. And sunny – brilliantly so. We used our umbrellas as parasols and bought sunscreen from some burglar who was charging triple the normal price. Never mind – it’s Australia Day. Volunteers were walking the streets handing out complimentary flags and hats. I was so pleased to be given a hat as without it I would have fried.
Thirty people from every corner of the globe including Syria, Brazil, Ireland, Zimbabwe and Iran were becoming Australian citizens that day. They and their families were given special seating, the choir stood beside them, and the rest of us were put behind a barrier where we had to stand. Never mind – it’s Australia Day.
While we waited for the ceremony to begin, Australia’s latest addition to its naval fleet, the HMAS Adelaide, anchored between us and the Opera House.
The ceremony was opened by an Aboriginal elder from the Gadigal Tribe of the Eora Nation, the place we now call Sydney. The elder’s name is Max and it’s polite to call an Elder, ‘Uncle’, so he was introduced as Uncle Max. Uncle Max said a lovely speech of how we are all the same; we all breath the same air, we drink the same water, we swim in the same sea. He said we need to concentrate our efforts on being united; we can’t change the past, but we can improve the future. I thought that was very forgiving, gracious and welcoming.
After Uncle Max spoke, there were speeches from the Lord Mayer and State and Federal politicians. While they were speaking, a few aborigines who had arrived with Uncle Max started preparing for a smoke ceremony. A fire was started by rubbing together two sticks and all the children in the choir had been invited to bring a leaf from their home to put on the fire. It is believed the smoke cleanses the area from where the leaves have come.
Then there was the citizenship ceremony where each person was introduced and we were told a bit about them and why they wanted to become Australian. They were then ushered into seats where they could watch the choir perform.
The choir performed three songs with the backing music coming from the HMAS Adelaide. The first song was in an Aboriginal language and I’m told it was about watching the sun set and seeing as it set, how it looked like a waratah; a native flower and the State flower of NSW.
Next they sang We Are Australian, a song that many think should be our national anthem. And the choir’s final song was Advance Australia Fair and we all stood and joined in.
After the singing there was a 21-gun salute followed by a fly-over by the Australian airforce. The official proceedings complete, it was now time to mingle. This was when Uncle Max and the man who created fire by rubbing together two sticks were overjoyed when I asked if my son could have their photo taken with them.
By this stage we’d been out in the scorching sun for around three hours and we were sweaty, sunburnt and thirsty. We made our way back through the crowds to the ferry terminal and headed for home.
With plenty of sunshine still left in the day, we then took Alfie and one of his mates out on the boat for a bit of swimming and tubing. After jostling the crowds it was wonderful to have a bit of space around us and after being in the heat, fabulous to be able to swim in the sea.
Arriving back home at around 7pm, there was no traditional Aussie barbie underway, however, I didn’t feel like anything was missing from the day; our son had performed in front of thousands of people, we’d met some beautiful aboriginal people, we’d been front and centre at some of the day’s best events, and then we’d relaxed on the water on Sydney Harbour. It was a fabulous way to spend Australia Day.