I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve arrived a little late to the urgency of the “change the date” debate. So late, in fact, that I went to an Australia Day event this week.
Going to Australia Day events is frowned upon in many circles, but I’ve been so distracted over the past few years that I hadn’t paid attention to the turning tide.
I’ve been working with Sydney Harbour Tall Ships for the 100th birthday of one of their beautiful vessels, the Southern Swan.
Since the tourism industry has been doing it really tough lately, I suggested they reward my efforts with an experience rather than payment. I was particularly keen on something involving fireworks.
New Year’s Eve was out of the question due to me returning Australia after 7pm from Fiji, so I said yes to Australia Day.
DD was supposed to come along and we were going to stay in a nice hotel in the city, but he caught COVID-19 at the Australian Open and had to cancel. Waaaaaaah!
So I asked the eldest to join me for the Australia Day festivities. The eldest stared at me in horror and refused. Not because it was uncool to be seen with a parent, but because it was wrong to celebrate Australia Day.
And that was the belated moment that it finally hit home to me how strongly a growing number of Australians feel about January 26 not being an appropriate day.
I really hope the government gets cracking on a date that we can all celebrate together as a nation, because I think we really need it right now.
Tourism operators are desperate for events as well, so they can get back on their feet.
The eldest’s view on Australia Day dampened my enthusiasm for my cruise a little, but I’d made a commitment to attend, so I went along.
And, of course, because I’m a drama magnet, it went pear shaped.
The security guard informed me when I arrived at the wharf that all the boats had sailed already.
My heart sank.
It turned out the latest reminder email I’d been sent about the cruise had the wrong time on it.
I was supposed to be there at 10am, not 11am.
I almost cried, but so much shite has gone down over the past two years that I couldn’t produce any tears.
I rang the owners, who suggested I catch a water taxi to the boat, the Soren Larsen, which was cruising near Garden Island.
I called four taxi services, who were all either fully booked or not prepared to transfer me to a tall ship.
I wanted to cry again, but still couldn’t find any tears. So I sat under a tree to watch the Ferrython race and cheered on four Emerald-class ferries as they competed for line honours.
Just as I was about to head to the bus and make my desultory way home, the owners rang and said that if I could get to Man O War steps they would collect me in a dinghy.
There was just one problem – the Man O War steps are on the Botanic Gardens side of the Sydney Opera House. I was in The Rocks. So I started sprinting …
When I arrived panting at the Opera House there were hundreds of people queuing to get into the Australia Day Live Concert. I had to divert up Macquarie Street and scamper through the Botanic Gardens down to the Man O War step.
I arrived sweaty and panicked and texted the owners to tell them I was there.
The dinghy arrived and took me to the ship, where I was hauled inelegantly on board in front of the other passengers.
A bottle of cider and a BBQ lunch fixed my stage fright and I settled down to await the Soren Larsen taking part in the annual Tall Ships race.
I asked a member of the crew when the starters pistol would be sounded and he cheerfully informed me that the race was already underway … despite the tall ships all appearing to be completely stationary in the water.
Things move slowly when you’re a tall ship that has cut its engine and there’s no wind.
I can’t even begin imagine how it must have felt to be a convict on the First Fleet as it crept across the seas to Australia.
There were four ships in the race and they gradually gathered snail’s pace as they advanced towards the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The last few minutes of the race were very exciting, especially when the Soren Larsen won!
We disembarked soon after and I spent a few hours on dry land. Then, after triple checking the departure time, I returned to the Soren Larsen to watch the evening fireworks.
It was stunningly beautiful on the harbour as dusk fell and the ships and Sydney Opera House lit up with coloured lights.
There were Australian and Aboriginal flags flapping everywhere, from the jet-skis shooting fireworks to the many boats in the harbour to the sails of the Sydney Opera House itself.
The Soren Larsen was allowed to be up close to the action and even did a twirl around Circular Quay in a boat parade past the cheering crowds.
I ached for it to be a celebration that everyone in Australia could enjoy because it was really quite something.
The time is long overdue to find common ground. I’m not sure I will feel comfortable marking the day again until that happens.
But it was so peaceful and gorgeous out on the water that I wanted to share with you how wonderful it could be if we settle on a date we can all enjoy together.
Sydney Harbour really is the most stunningly beautiful spot. Sailing on the Soren Larsen this week was magic.