Our last two Australia Days were blazing hot and sunny, which is what is supposed to happen for this celebration of the proclamation, in 1788, of British sovereignty over the eastern coast of New Holland. It is a day on which many citizenship ceremonies take place across the land.
The first time, we headed down the Cunningham Highway to Lake Moogerah: it was so hot and I was so new to it, I was wary of walking too far in the sun. Last year, even following so much Big Rain and Great Brisbane Flooding, the weather was glorious, although what made the biggest impression that day was the Leech of Mt Mee (see Australia Day trippers, January 2011).
This Australia Day follows days of incessant rain and localised flooding. My plans for tripping have been thwarted: Springbrook National Park (in order to see Purlingbrook Falls in full spate) has been closed by the Department of the Environment and Resource Management.
My first look out this morning revealed a weak sun struggling to make an impact, encouraging Brisbanites to get out and enjoy it while it lasted.
This is merely a small calm before more storm, however. Queensland is currently under the influence of a 'monsoonal trough' (or 'surface low', as in low pressure), which is crossing most of the state except the Channel Country (southwestern outback). The rainy days we've just had made up the first phase. Now there's a lull until tomorrow or Saturday. Then phase 2 will bring more heavy, near-constant rain. By the middle of next week we'll be in phase 3: the system will move out over the Coral Sea and may morph into a cyclone, but a weak one.
Yesterday SEQ Water started 'gate releases' from the Wivenhoe Dam 'at a rate of no more than 350 cubic metres per second', the implication being that these are not voluminous releases. They are merely to get the reservoir back to 'full supply level (75%)'. I don't know whether the people of Southeast Queensland are as concerned about such releases as they were a few weeks ago (see Troubled waters, November 2011). I have been watching the Australian Open for two weeks rather than listening to local talkback radio.
Although the rain kept off until mid-evening, it seemed a fairly low-key Australia Day to me. We were aware of only one boisterous festivity – across the river from us – but for the most part there were few people abroad and not a lot of audible partying. We probably made the most noise in our block, by inviting a couple of new friends who live on the floor above to join us for an Australia Day barbie. We certainly created the most smoke. And smoke is not without fire. We were soon informed of our near neighbours' 'concerns' about the smoke; although they surely must have been able to hear happy noises emanating from the same area rather than cries of alarm. And why didn't they ring our bell to make sure, rather than dobbing us in to management? Perhaps because some Aussies aren't as laid back as they'd like to think or as their reputation would have us believe.
There wasn't a lot of laidbackness in Canberra either. Prime Minister Julia Gillard was celebrating Australia Day by awarding medals to emergency workers. Opposition leader Tony Abbott was also present. He had earlier upset protesters at the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in the capital by expressing his view that, although he understood why the Embassy had been set up originally (in 1972), 'a lot has changed since then, and I think it probably is time to move on from that'. Some Aborigines consider Australia Day to be tantamount to invasion day – and this year is the Embassy's 40th anniversary – so perhaps Abbott's timing wasn't brilliant. About 200 activists surrounded the restaurant where the two leaders were, banging on its glass sides, and the PM had to be bundled into a getaway car by overzealous police. Abbott was accused of inciting racial riots by some activists.
One thing I did hear on the radio this week was an ABC report about recent research by the University of Western Australia who interviewed Australia Day revellers in Perth last year. Those who attached Australian flags to their cars in a flurry of nationalistic fervour were more likely to express racist views and feel that Australian culture is under threat, researchers found. (We are talking cheap and tacky plastic flags here, of course.) Researchers add that we should by no means conclude that all 'flaggers' are racist. And there has been a reduction in the number of cars flying flags since 2006, which could simply be because fewer businesses are giving them away rather than there being a cultural shift.
I would hate to think my friend's attempt to get into the spirit of Australia Day might be misconstrued.
This post was written on 26 January 2012