January 26 rolls around again. But this year it's different. For a start, it's on a weekend so we get the opportunity for a mini-break rather than a day trip. Unfortunately, it's going to be raining. We can be fairly sure of this as the remnant rains of Tropical Cyclone Oswald track south over Queensland. As I write, the wind is getting up nicely: today's showers are going to develop into serious downpour tomorrow and Sunday. That's why we're headed south into northern New South Wales, to Ballina. In fact, I lined this trip up weeks ago and even there we're going to get a drenching.
In Rockhampton 470 mm of rain fell in 21 hours up to 6 am today. Near Tully, admittedly the wettest place in Australia, 1000 mm has fallen in three days. There have been landslides, extensive flooding, road and rail closures, boats dashed on rocks and many swift water rescues. Queensland Fire and Rescue Service crews include swift water rescue technicians, which is yet another example how experienced and prepared Australians are to face a level of inclement weather – and the consequences of it – unbeknown to most Europeans. Wivenhoe Dam northwest of Brisbane has today begun to release water into the Brisbane River. Along with severe weather warnings comes the advice to reconsider your Australian Day plans.
For many Aussies, those plans will revolve around their family and friends, probably including a BBQ or a picnic and outdoorsy activities for the kids nearing the end of their long summer break. They'll start early but won't go on till late, certainly not in Queensland. There'll be lots of food and booze, partying, fundraising, cockroach racing, concerts, flag raising, fireworks, citizenship ceremonies and awards for deserving Australians. A lot of this will be kiboshed in torrential rain, but Australians' fervour for their national day will never be dampened.
It commemorates the day the First Fleet arrived, in 1788, not the federation of Australia in 1901, since when its citizens, or certainly some of them, have grappled with the idea of nationhood; what it means to be an Australian; where they figure on the world stage; their self-image and how everyone else sees them. In 1999 they voted in a referendum whether or not to become a republic: 55 per cent said no. Being as far from a monarchist as it's possible to be, I cannot understand why Australia still shares a monarch with a country half a world away. There may be a lot of history, but Australia is in Asia now. In today's Sydney Morning Herald, Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan keeps the republicanism debate* alive, but I don't think many republicans believe it would be wise to have another vote before the current queen's reign is over.
For Australia's original inhabitants, 26 January is Invasion Day, so is certainly not something to be celebrated. They're unlikely to become more enamoured of the idea if they witness one aspect of Australia Day that I have not seen but have heard much about: namely, it's reduction to 'a heavily hyped, high-spirited and inebriated national ritual'.†
I may be moaning about packing waterproofs and warmer clothes than I'd planned but maybe, for once, the weather will deter the rather more undesirable 'patriots' from their revels.