Anne here, with an unhappy dog, sitting on my feet as close as she can get. Why? The fireworks have started. She hates fireworks. And why the fireworks? It's 26th January, Australia Day and a national public holiday.
To be honest, I wish it wasn't on 26th January. It's not the timing — it's summer time here, which is a good time for a celebration. But the 26th January 1788 is the date when the First Fleet arrived in Sydney Cove from Britain, and began the colonization process. It's not a day the indigenous people of this country celebrate; in fact many of them consider it a day of mourning for the inevitable destruction that followed.
So I'd rather celebrate my country on a day where public opinion is not so divided and where all Australians can participate wholeheartedly, perhaps a date like May 9th, which is when the first Australian Parliament met in 1900. Yes, we're a young country. Australia is the oldest continent in geographical terms, but as a nation, we're very young indeed.
Prior to 1900, Australia was not one country, but a collection of separate colonies, each with their own government, though all were under British rule. Federation took place officially on January 1st 1900, and the first parliament met on May 9th, so for me, that's the most appropriate day to celebrate the birth of a nation.
So what do we all do on Australia Day? A lot of people will spend the day at the beach. For many it's the end of the summer holidays, so this is the last family time before we all slip back into the regular routine of work, school, etc.
Traditionally it's a day for barbecues or picnics and sport — home-made or watching it live or on TV. The Australian Open is playing in Melbourne (my home city) for those who love tennis, and for those who don't, there is a one day cricket match (Australia Vs England played I think, in Adelaide) and if those choices don't please you, there's basketball in Sydney.
But this year a lot of people are dealing with the devastation caused by major flooding in Queensland, New South Wales and parts of Victoria. To give you some idea, the flooded area was about the same size as New South Wales, 312, 500 square miles. (As a comparison, Texas is 268, 500 sq. miles.) And in Victoria, my home state, my dad's birthplace is flooded and people in the north-west are still filling sandbags and waiting for the floods to peak.
Much of the affected area is agricultural land, so farmers' crops have been wiped out and the small towns dependent on them will be struggling. The city of Brisbane flooded, its centre drowned. Full recovery will take years.
What has been heartwarming, though, is the way so many people have been pitching in to help. Complete strangers descending to help with sandbagging and evacuation, and in already devastated areas, arriving to help with the clean-up, supplying people with whatever they need, and taking in people/families who are homeless, raising money to help the flood victims and doing whatever they can. Supermarkets and chain stores all over the country are centers for the collection of donations. Local rescue and reconstruction organizations and government bodies are coordinating the huge number of volunteers. It was the same two years ago when we had terrible bushfires in my state.
(And by the way, Romance Writers of Australia are collecting books to donate to the flood devastated communities, and the Australian Romance Readers Association are having a silent auction to raise money, so if you'd like to help, click on the links above.)
This is what I celebrate on Australia Day — the way so many of my fellow Aussies, of all walks of life and cultural backgrounds and from all corners of this huge country, pitch in to help.
And I'd bet my bottom dollar that on this Australia Day holiday, despite the hardship and misery, a lot of the flood victims will have stopped the clean-up to barbecue a sausage or two and have a drink with friends and neighbors, just to prove they might be down, but they're not out. And then they'll go back to work.
What about you? Suffered from severe weather events lately? Ever been to Australia? Did you see Oprah in Australia? What did you think?
And if you're an Aussie, how did you spend this Australia Day?