Australia Day!

Somewhere a little past midsummer is a good time for national holidays, right? And there’s often a good historical date cooperating to line up with good weather.

Niall waves the flag
Niall on the M/V Furthur, waving a flag to celebrate Australia Day in Sydney Harbour, 2011

For Australia, that’s the 26th of January, and the commemorative event is the 1788 arrival of a British boat in what is now Sydney Harbour.

The boat was part of what’s now called The First Fleet. Basically, these were boats of convicts and a supporting crew of handlers in search of a place to call home in the big new land down under. The loss of the colonies in the United States had prompted Britain to find other places for the removal of their unwanted, and this was the first mass dispatch for relocation.

Cook had been here back in 1700 and this boat we’re honoring had actually gotten to Australian shores a couple of weeks previously. After poking around a number of bays in the area of what is now New South Wales, and some contact with the existing residents, they hadn’t found a “suitable” place to establish the first settlement of exiles. And so, in remembrance of having landed near the current site of Sydney on 26th January 1788 and claimed a bit of land in the name of King George, there’s now a spectacular national celebration. Official establishment of the colony was a few weeks later, but I suspect this date rules because February is inconveniently outside school holidays.

There is grand patriotism. Lots of flags. National food (prawns on the barbie, anyone? cold stubby?). Probably fireworks, too, in someplace less rainy than Brisbane has been lately. But the most hyped local festivities in our area? Cockroach Races!

A big fan of the fun-loving nature of Aussies, we decided this would be a good ol time and trundled along with our friends on Ceilydh to the nearby race theater and “party zone,” held nearby in land adjacent to a storied local pub.

Despite the bikini babes in the dunk tank we passed on our way in, the venue was included serious racng. There were well documented rules posted for all; the grandstand arena included box seating. They’ve been holding these annually for some time. And there was pomp: an Irish pipe band paraded through the arena before each round. You just can’t deny the emotional pull of bagpipes!

Cockroach races
The scene of cockroach races at The Story Bridge Hotel, 2012

Was it fun: yes! The crowd was convivial. The races were hysterical. A bucket of cockroaches, names carefully painted on their backs, are dropped in the middle and run hell-bent for the edges. There’s a meager attempt to determine which one actually gets to the outer ring and takes first place, but winning is for the “trainer” and not the cockroach…it’s a short road for the little athletes. Supporting staff found it fun to grab a few and chuck them into the viewing crowd.

Was it family friendly: not so much. Perhaps the pub location should have tipped us off…we’re a little slow that way, sometimes. But we enjoyed our race, the kids got a kick out of the dunk tank, and then we made our way back to Totem… for our own version of Aussie Day celebrations.