Straya Day, as the fabulously independent Byron Shire Echo, our local paper states, means many things to many people in this vast brown land.
Controversially celebrated on 26th January, Australia Day marks the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip on the shores of Botany Bay, in 1788. To many Indigenous Australians it marks Invasion Day and it has more recently been renamed Survivor Day. The debate goes on in the Echo’s editorial about appropriate recognition of Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution. National radio broadcasts one former conservative politician calling for the date to be changed and another Australia Day Council Indigenous leader suggesting we just move on.
Despite this important debate, people all over Australia at the end of the long summer holidays, get on with celebrating in typical Ocker style. The government announces wonderfully inspiring leaders as Australians of the Year and local councils bestow citizenship on an dazzling array of immigrant Australians.
Brunswick Heads’ Housie Tent, erected for the famous Woodchop event earlier in the month, is the venue for Mullumbimby Rotary Club’s huge breakfast, with singalong. This year we are all encouraged to bring along our ukeleles. Later on a prawn peeling competition is held at the Brunswick Pub, hosted by one of our local comedians.
Byron Bay Rotary Club hosts a breakfast next to the Surf Club where free Aussie flags can be had and Survival Day is held at Main Beach. A formal welcome to country by Awakwal Bundjalung spokesperson, Delta Kay is followed by dance troupes, the obligatory barbecue, A Sisters for Reconciliation stall and free Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
The citizenship ceremony in Byron Shire is held at Mullumbimby, where community awards, such as citizen of the year, young citizen of the year, community event of the year and environmental volunteer project of the year are given out. Afterwards the Mullum pool hosts a barbecue with inflatables, a thong throwing contest and buskers.
In the past, we have invited our immigrant friends to bring along something their culture has added to Australia or reminds them of home or celebrates their contribution and join us for an Aussie morning tea.
Our favourite event this year though, is the Mullet Throwing at the Ocean Shores School. This event now in its 5th year, involves throwing a weighted rubber fish like a discus. Distances are marked out and parents with clip boards and measuring tapes measure out each throw. It’s like a mini version of Little Athletics. And there are trophies and ribbons to be won!
When we arrive, the competition is nearly over; the adults have had their go and it’s now the littlies having a throw. It’s almost impossible to sight the mullet as it flies over head. The Lions Club barbecue is wafting the smell of post competition sausages and onion over the playground and the ladies at the Dolphin Canteen are filling up the cordial bottles for the thirsty competitors. The Ocean Shores School motto says it all.
We three head off for fish and chips at the Brunswick Coop, armed with a bottle of champagne. One of us is an Australian immigrant citizen from the 60’s. We wouldn’t miss celebrating a life of freedom and opportunity this country offers, inspired by the community service acknowledged on this day. We talk about changing the date but not the spirit of the community coming together to celebrate our Straya culture.