Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. It is a public holiday which is celebrated annually on 26 January, the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag here, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of New Holland.
Before I visited this vast continent I had heard about the big party celebrations held in every territory across the state, and some had even described the event as "just like Paddy's Day to the Irish."
So you can imagine that after a very long drive up the West Coast as part of a tour on January 26, 2008 I was pretty excited about getting out and celebrating with the locals. Everyone on the bus (mostly from the UK) were also looking forward to some flag waving, drunken singing and general happy celebrations.
We were staying on a farm outside of Northampton, and our tour guide kindly offered to bring us to the town nearby and drop us off at the bar for our all night party.
We arrive outside a wooden exterior rural outback bar and about 15 of us offloaded and greeted the locals sitting outside (about 3 middle aged men) with a loud "Happy Australia Day!" To which the men looked up ... and sniggered – they didn't laugh, they sniggered.
I was taken aback but just thought they were the sad minority ... inside the bar there were about 20 people propping the counter. Again, they were startled with the groups' chorus. These ones didn't even snigger, they looked up, stared for longer than is polite and returned to their drinks. They were not talking to each other, there was no music and some were playing the pokies(annoying arcade games that are in every pub in OZ, even Irish ones).
So while there may be fireworks, open air events and general jolliness in the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane it is not quite celebrated as a national holiday all over the country. We felt as if we had insulted these people, came into their town and ruined their evening by reminding them about their national holiday.
The bar man told us "We don't really celebrate the day, its just like any other."
The date is seen as controversial by some Australians, particularly Indigenous Australians, who see commemorating the arrival of the First Fleet as celebrating the destruction of the native Aboriginal culture by British colonists. It has been locally termed as "Invasion Day" and even "Survival Day."
Let me just make this clear – Australia Day is no way like Paddy's Day.
And the outback is weird and scary – but that is what makes it unique and attractive.