Before I came to Sydney, I imagined I would spend Australia Day lounging on a blazing hot beach in my swimmers and novelty cork hat and then getting completely blotto on cheap beer in a seaside pub filled with shirtless Aussie hunks. I did not expect weather akin to that of Glasgow (gloomy grey skies, endless rain) and enforced sobriety due to two types of antibiotics for a severely infected wisdom tooth. Armed with an umbrella, sensible shoes and enough codeine to floor a small horse, I met my friend Hazel at Circular Quay and we headed down to The Rocks to watch the festivities in the harbour.
First up was the Ferrython, a race between the harbour’s regular public transport ferries, with the finish line underneath the Habour Bridge. It wasn’t quite as nail-biting as a running or motor race, but still a spectacular sight. At midday, the domineering HMAS Canberra fired a 21-gun salute to Australia and choirs of schoolchildren from all over New South Wales led a sing-along of the dreadful national anthem, Advance Australia Fair. Like all countries except France, whose La Marseillaise inspires in me an urge to storm the Bastille with regulation-compliant baguettes tucked under my arm, I can’t understand why Australia doesn’t change its national anthem immediately. However, the choirs’ sweetly-sung rendition of The Seekers’ I Am Australian, which the green and gold-clad crowd joined in with en masse, moved me to tears.
The Tug and Yacht Ballet was my favourite part of the day. Amilcare Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours and Ravel’s Bolero blasted out over the harbour as tugboats executed neat turns and yachts, white sails billowing like maritime Bolshoi, spun and whirled in perfect unison. Navy helicopters joined in the display and the finale was an explosion of water cannons and brightly coloured clouds of smoke. I thought about my mum, and how much she would love it. Someone needs to make teleportation real, stat. The Harbour Parade, led by a giant inflatable turtle, was a steady stream of vessels dressed up to the nines in Aussie and various global flags. A jazz band played a short set on a floating stage, but the song choices were at odds with the theme of the day. I wished they had played jazz versions of AC/DC, INXS and Kylie Minogue. Or at least the Neighbours theme tune…
The afternoon aerial displays were cancelled due to the appalling weather, so Hazel and I grabbed a quick lunch and walked to Darling Harbour, hoping the Australia Day activities there would be in full swing. The Evil Cockatoo of Doom was overseeing Cockle Bay, but it seemed the weather had put a dampener on all celebrations across the city. We found the Culture Beats World Music Stage and settled in a dry spot under our brollies to watch Iho Nyx play Cretan music. They were wonderful, their melodic brand of Mediterranean folk made me yearn for a Greek getaway. It would have been nice to see the evening fireworks, but hanging around for hours in the rain was too depressing a thought, so I caught the train home and daydreamed of blue skies, sunshine and drinking cheap wine on a roof terrace overlooking the Med while swarthy Greek men brought me stuffed vine leaves and serenaded me on Cretan lyra. Australia Day was in no way what I expected.