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Happy Australia Day!  Australia day is celebrated every year on January 26th.  We get a public holiday for it such is it’s importance to us.  It is in commemoration of the landing of the first fleet back in 1788.  Such was the love of their adopted land by some of it’s new inhabitants, they celebrated the anniversary every year.  Over the years, this has come to be known as Australia Day. If you want to read more about the history, a lot of which I didn’t know, read it here.

I don’t remember it being as big a celebration when I was a kid as it is now.  For so many years, Australians were almost embarrassed by anything Australian.  We seemed to believe the image that other countries had of us, that of a tiny, little backwater that was years behind the rest of the world and a bit of a bogon state. Thankfully those days have changed.  We are proud now of our  heritage.  Rather than being embarrassed by it, everyone wants to  find convict ancestors who were deported from Mother England.

We now go to the cinemas to watch home grown movies where once upon a time, we cringed at them.  Sometimes the cringeworthy factor was very deserved but other times we’ve created masterpieces which went unloved by our own.  I do have a problem with a lot of our Aussie movies that are box office successes overseas.  You see, going back to the perception of us as a bogon filled backwater, the movies that have been made to “take the piss” out of that particular stereotype, have been embraced by the world as who we really are.  Crocodile Dundee, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Muriel’s Wedding, The Castle… these are all fantastic movies & characters but hardly indicative of the nation we are today.

If you watch movies from 50 years ago, you can see how far we’ve come as a nation with the way we speak and live.  It is sad to some degree that we have lost so much of our “ockerisms”.  Alf Stewart from Home and Away is a great example of the  typical ocker who is fast disappearing.  Stone the flamin’ crows, Strewth, Fair Dinkum… these were all everyday phrases that were used in our speech.  In the fight to be recognised as a country who was up to date with the rest of the world, we sacrificed a lot of our Australianisms. Smiley gets a Gun or any other Chips Rafferty movie will give you a great example of how we once spoke.  And to top it off,their speech was a lot more polished than usual because they were filming.

While it is sad that we have lost some of those ockerisms that gave us the laid back, larrikin image to the rest of the world, fact is, we are still laid back larrikins.  The image of sitting round having a barbie with mates and a few beers is exactly what we like to do as a nation. Yes I know some don’t, but on the whole, it is one of this country’s favorite pastimes.  It is very rare to see a backyard without a barbeque.  To many people, the BBQ is as essential to the backyard as the TV is to the lounge room.   It is designed around the BBQ.  We don’t throw a shrimp on,as Hoges said although we certainly will throw some prawns but usually it’s snags, chops, steak and burgers.  We smother the burned offerings with lashings of dead horse (red sauce – known elsewhere as ketchup), we sit around telling whoppers (fanciful stories) and having a few frothies (beers).

As kids, we grew up running through streets and paddocks in our bare feet.. Shoes were for school and more formal times.   Every back yard had some form of cubby house.  Not the namby pamby, splinter free, germ free, fully color coordinated ones so many kids have today, but ones made out of old fence palings that we nailed together with rusty old nails (dads weren’t going to give us their good nails). We built them in trees, paddocks and behind sheds.  We got splinters on our splinters by being in them, but we didn’t care.  We were the kings, queens, architects, builders, decorators, painters and tenants of our own kingdom when we were in them.  If walls could talk, the cubby houses of Australia would be our most important childhood archives. They heard our dreams, our hopes, our wishes, our sadness, our secrets.. our souls were in those walls.

We went off in the mornings on school holidays and weekends, we played with other neighbourhood kids and came home only for lunch, and then nicked off again till dinner time.  If it wasn’t hot enough to be at the local pool that is.   One of my favorite memories of childhood is the taste of Redskin lollies and chlorinated water at Kardinia Pool in Geelong.  In winter, we would head down to the local footy club and watch the under 13s, under 18s, reserves and seniors play and hopefully win.  That is of course, if we weren’t playing netball.. Then we would watch the footy after our own game.  We had freedom and we had a sense of safety.

We spent afternoons in our own backyards too.. with the blow up pool or swinging on the hills hoist until our mum’s yelled at us for bending it.  We played backyard cricket, where  there were no sixes and “over the fence” was out.  Yelling out the word “barley” was enough to stop you becoming “it” if your mum called you in the middle of a game of chasey.  We often had chooks in the backyard and would have to gather up the eggs for our mums.  Nearly every backyard had a swing set and if the seat broke, your dad put a plank of wood, splinters and all, in its place.  If you didn’t have a swing set, you probably had one made from an old tyre hanging off a tree.  Our imagination was our favorite toy.

At school, we had to drink revolting warm milk at morning playtime (school recess).  The milk had started the day cold, but as playtime approached, the milk which had been sitting on the step of the school in the sunshine got horribly warm. I still hate warm milk to this day.  We had music lessons played to us over the speakers that were in every room and we sang along with the book “Let’s join in”. Our teachers were Sir and Miss. We pledged allegiance to God and our country every Monday morning and played God Save the Queen, which was then our national anthem, on the recorder….. very badly I might add.  We swung from Monkey Bars without a thought of our parents suing the school if we fell and broke an arm.  We dinked other kids home on our bikes without a thought of helmets. We chewed on sour grass without thinking that a dog might have peed on it.  We walked home in the rain unless one of our mums came to pick us up, then they piled everyone in the car, dropping them all home… without seatbelts mostly.  And of course we called our friend’s parents, Mr & Mrs.. never their first name.

We are so very privileged to have grown up in Australia. We are girt (surrounded) by sea, sand, skies and sensational scenery. (I’ve decided to make the word girt more widely used since it is part of our national anthem.  Think about it, if you’re in a hurry, girt is only one syllable compared to surrounded’s three.)  We have freedom of speech.  We have rights and privileges not even dreamed about by other countries.  There is no reason, in Australia, why a child born in Ethiopia or Vietnam, who has come here as a refugee, can’t become CEO of a major company, an actor, comedian (thanks Anh Do), politician or anything else he/she aspires to be when they grow up. This really is the land of opportunity.  We forget sometimes how easy we really do have it.

We forget that in other countries, if you can’t pay for your medical treatment, you don’t get seen.  Here, while the waits may be long in Emergency rooms, we do get treated, we have brilliant specialists, doctors and nurses who ensure we are well looked after.  We have amazing servicemen who serve our country with pride, both here and overseas.  Our diggers, past and present, have made sure we live in a country of freedom.  We have amazing volunteer firefighters who put their own lives at risk to protect people and property.  Our surf lifesavers patrol our beaches to look after those enjoying the surf, sand and sun.   So many more volunteers work in all sorts of fields to support this fantastic way of life we enjoy. We really are a nation of people who want to get involved.

To me.. that’s what Australia Day is all about.  Celebrating the amazing people who contribute to this country, those born here and who chose to make this there home from wherever in the world they came from.   From the first inhabitants of this land to the ones who come here in search of a dream and everyone in between.  This really is the lucky country.  Let’s celebrate it with pride.

Happy Australia Day… Livvy 🙂

Happy Australia Day

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