Australia Day - 1906

25 January 2012

There was scant allowance for ceremony, wrote Alfred Deakin.

By Alfred Deakin*

Our national holiday was observed this year with Australian wholeheartedness, but with a scant allowance of ceremony.

What there was of that was English.

We are miserable copyists in all such matters, and a luncheon with speeches marks the limit of our invention in the way of formal demonstrations.

The first settlement in Australia and the foundation of New South Wales are honoured in this same fashion on January 26 each twelvemonths with deadly earnestness and on most occasions deadly dullness.

Our predecessors the Aboriginals would have done better, though they, too, would have had as great a horror of originality in any tribal display.

They would have held a 'corroboree'; and, though just why it took its particular mode might defy explanation, the performance would have been somehow associated with religious sentiment, mythical suggestions, and remote traditions visibly expressed in white ochre, bizarre dressing, and dramatic dances by firelight accompanied with weird music.

That would have been looked forward to for months before and talked of for months afterwards. To us our celebration marks little more than another holiday, and holidays are so frequent in this country that no special distinction attaches to it on this account.

One of our papers puts it very prettily, justifying to ourselves our predilection for amusements by saying that we have a genius for holiday-making.

So have some much less prosperous peoples in sunny climates like our own. In our out-of-door habits we are still true to type, but have much finer opportunities for indulging them than can be expected in the Mother Country. Our Midsummer is never too hot for picnics or for sports, and this year the day was cool.

An Inter-State cricket match, a regatta in the harbour, and the indispensable race meeting were among the attractions of the crowd in Sydney, but there were also rifle matches and many other minor competitions within a short radius.

The whole population was on pleasure bent, and apparently succeeded in getting it. Working theshortest hours for the best pay obtainable under the same conditions anywhere our masses have always money to spend upon recreations.

They do spend it, and those concerned in providing it thrive proportionally. The anniversary was welcomed in all the States with the same energy and the same rigid uniformity of official recognition. Victoria, owing to some local law, chose to hold its festival on Monday, the 29th, instead of the preceding Friday.

That was the only particular in which there was any visible variation of the proceedings intended to remind us all that 118 years ago our first Governor, Captain Phillip, landed the first British settlers at a thickly-wooded cove, which is now densely covered with palatial buildings and ringed by the great mailsteamships lying stem to stern all along Circular Quay.

*From Federation Australia - Selections from Letters to the Morning Post 1900-1910.

Contained in the Alfred Deakin Prime Ministerial Library Collection.

Alfred Deakin Alfred Deakin

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