Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Australia Day! G’day, mate!

I want to be the first to wish you a Happy Australia Day! (It’s coming up this week, you know.)

I think Australia Day is one of our most overlooked holidays here in the Good Ole USA… which is a shame, because we Americans universally like Australia.

Most years, we just simply forget to celebrate the day. We always remember St. Patty’s Day, a tribute to Ireland. We remember Cinco de Mayo, the holiday celebrated by our neighbors to the south. And we usually note the occurrence of Chinese New Year.

So why not Australia Day?

Many of us, if we were forced to relocate to any other country to live, would choose Australia. After all, they speak the same language as us, albeit with a bit of an accent. They practice Democracy, albeit spiced-up, with a little more name-calling than we’re accustomed to. And the country was first colonized by the cast-offs from other places…. just like us!

The native animals there are the stuff kids books are made of: kangaroo, koala, duckbill platypus. And they seem to be very likeable folks, the ones we know: Olivia Newton John, Russell Crowe, Mel Gibson, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Jackman, Elle Macpherson… these are all people I’d like to hang out with. (Not to mention Crocodile Dundee!)

And, to top it off, they have their own continent! The whole thing!!! Crikey!!!

Probably the reason I’m remembering the Australian holiday THIS year is because our little newspaper organization – the over-worked and under-paid people who provide you with the newspaper you’re reading each week – gained a new Australian-born General Sales Manager LAST year… and none of us have been able to get Australia our of our minds ever since!!!

Our GSM’s name is Jacqueline Kleynenberg, and she joined us one year ago this month. She came to us from Down Under, via Michigan, where she picked up hubby Michael, along with his last name. We have come to think of it as our own little cultural exchange program.

Anyway, now realizing the error of our ways in not celebrating this important holiday each year – after all, the Aussies are and have always been great allies of the USA, even during those times when some of our allies (we won’t mention any names, but “parlez vous Francais?”) seem to get amnesia about who their friends are – we’ve decided to commence our own Australia Day celebration. But before we start wolfing down Bloomin’ Onions and singing “Tie Me Kangaroo Down”, we thought a little edu-ma-cation might be in order.

So we asked our Jacqueline’s Pop, who is still down under, to give us a crash course on what this Australia Day is really all about. So, this week, as a part of my weekly word-offering to you, I’m proud to present, live and direct from the Land Down Under: Jacqueline’s Dad, The Most Honourable Eddie Edstein, retired from the Australian Military and Diplomatic Service. G’day, mate!

Austalia Day – January 26th
By Eddie Edstein
Australia Day is the National Anniversary of the founding of Australia by Captain Arthur Phillip in 1788. It is a Public holiday and is generally celebrated with major fireworks displays in major cities, small town parades or just lazing on the beach or a friendly BBQ at home with the neighbors. Usually organizers have a major tennis or cricket event at this time. It is celebrated on the day it falls but if on a week-end the following Monday is given as a public holiday.
Australia had been visited by many nations before the arrival of Captain James Cook in the Barque ‘Endeavour’ in 1770 when he claimed it for England. The Chinese had visited here back in 1421 and made some long forays into the hinterland after becoming shipwrecked. There is some evidence that DNA shows some aboriginals have Chinese blood. Many other countries, particularly the Dutch, had landed and even chartered the coastline from what is now Western Australia right around Southern Australia and up to the top of Queensland on the East Coast in the 15/16 centuries. They, had even named the land mass as ‘New Holland’ but somehow never got around to making the necessary claim.
Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with the First fleet but passed the magnificent Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) sailing some 20 miles further South to Botany Bay where he landed at Kurnell and raised the Flag of and for England and there began the first white settlement of Australia. Re-enactments of this event takes place every year on 26 January.
It was also the beginning of an unfortunate conflict with the Aboriginal people who inhabited this area resulting in many fatal outcomes. On 26 January each year, the Aboriginal people make their peaceful protest at the re-enactment site.
The first fleet arrived with a military contingent, supplies, and animals and fowl for the beginning of their new country. Also, there were many convicts accompanying the fleet.
The settlement moved back to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour) where the settlement grew quickly with the arrival of more convict ships. Australia was now a penal colony. Convicts were sent to Sydney, Melbourne and Tasmania (Port Arthur). They were sent to many other places too.
Australia, like America has been built largely on its immigrants from all parts of the world. Initially most came from England and after the WWII many came from Europe. Many Italians, Greeks and folk from the Baltics, and Eastern Europe arrived in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s. Now we have immigrants from China, Vietnam and the Middle East and many other countries.
We welcome them all and we now have some magnificent restaurants of many different cuisines. We also benefit from the cultures they bring with them. We only ask that they leave their prejudices behind.
Now we all share in the benefits of living in a free country made by many who have laid down their lives to make it so.
We ask only that they respect the country they have chosen, its Flag and the values it stands for.
Although we still are part of the British Commonwealth and share some of the British traditions, we are fiercely independent, especially in our sporting achievements but we always try to abide by the sporting code. We are well known for our egalitarian attitude of the “Fair Go” for all and generally dislike people who flaunt their wealth or position.
We take our share of the load in world conflicts and usually pay more heavily per capita for doing so. And we do it entirely at our own expense!
We are presently 21 million strong but have room for a few more. Why not come down and have a look? Or stay even?

About the author: Eddie Edstein retired as an Officer in the Australian Military with 23 years service, then served in the Australian Government’s Foreign Diplomatic Service for 12 years. He is a husband (with 48 years service) and the father of three daughters, with eight grandchildren. He currently resides on Bribie Island, Qld., which is in Northeastern Australia.

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