Australia Day Lite in Kiama

What do you do when you’re a woke Council (aren’t they all, I hear you ask) but not woke enough to cancel Australia Day altogether?  Perhaps your mayor understands that ratepayers might have something to say about that and you reluctantly accept that he would never agree to a cancellation, but he might be amenable to some compromise.  Something that would allow you to put the event pretty much out of sight. This year my local council, Kiama, managed the almost perfect Clayton’s Australia Day.

You start the process by failing to put any mention of the proposed celebration in the local newspaper, The Bugle. Patriots like my wife and I had to look it up on the council website, which advertised the following program, commencing at 08.30am:

Welcome to Country
Australia Day Address
Citizenship ceremony
Flag raising
Smoking ceremony
Indigenous dance performance

Now Kiama is a magnet for tourists on any weekend or public holiday. They flock here in their droves to a picture-postcard town.  And this year, Australia Day also coincided with the first day of the Kiama Show. Right next to the showground is Kiama’s main surf beach, busy every weekend and a stone‘s throw from the main centre. It was bound to be teeming with people on the day. What better place could you want to hold a significant event such as Australia Day? 

Well, if it’s a Clayton’s Australia Day you want, almost anywhere else.  In this case, the venue chosen was the Kiama Downs Surf Club at Jones Beach.  Kiama Downs is an outlying suburb of Kiama that has great appeal to its residents but offers little in the way of commercial leisure activity.  There are very few cafes and no pub.  It is separated from Kiama itself by Bombo Beach and the Princes Highway Bypass. Not likely to attract more than a few Kiama Downs locals.

So having got the venue right, you then have to outsource the event to the Surf Club itself and assign the Mayor only a peripheral role. Here’s how it played out:

To begin with, the Surf Club did a good job arranging marquees, chairs and tables for a good many people at the back of the clubhouse. And, of course they put on a BBQ starting from 7am. Things went downhill from there. 

Proceedings did not commence until after 9am without any explanation of, or apology. We didn’t get the Welcome to Country, but neither did we even get the traditional acknowledgement of, and welcome to distinguished guests. I know that the federal member, Fiona Phillips, was there because I said hello to her. I know the state member, Gareth Ward was there, because I saw him.  He was the one – the only one – dressed with any formality.  And I know that Mayor Neil Reilly, was there because I also said hello to him when he arrived.  He told me he was there “in camouflage”.  I did not appreciate the significance of that remark until later.  I don’t know how many of the councillors graced us with their presence – possibly none.

When I arrived, what I thought would be the setting for the ceremony involved a screen placed in front of a water tank, in front of which, no doubt the newly sworn citizens would have their photos taken.  I did wonder about the significance of the three rubbish bins. I need not have worried.  It turned out the official presentations took place on the balcony above.

Australia’s flag and a couple of others were raised and we all sang the National Anthem.

Then the Mayor was invited to the podium (such as it was) by the MC, the president of the Surf Club, and gave a perfunctory address in which he noted that the date of Australia Day was a subject of some debate and it might not always be on the January 26. But, nonetheless, we were stuck with it for now (he didn’t actually say that, but he might just as well) and we should all enjoy the day anyway.  He then handed over to Bruce Elder, an Australia Day ambassador, who told us that on many occasions it was very hot on Australia Day and weren’t we lucky it was not so hot today. Oh, and that we live in a wonderful country. Federal member Fiona Phillips then handed out National Medals to a number of the Surf Club longstanding members.  And good on them, too.

Then it was over to the representatives of the local Aboriginal community who entertained us for nearly an hour with a smoking ceremony and various dances.  And then it was all over.

Nothing was seen or heard of the twelve new citizens, who must have been sworn in out of sight up in the clubhouse.  Maybe the officials thought it would be less embarrassing for them to swear out of the public gaze their allegiance to an allegedly illegitimate nation built on purportedly stolen land.

I have no objection to some Aboriginal content in our Australia Day celebrations, and good on this ‘mob’ for wanting to participate, but it seemed well over the top to me that this aspect should dominate proceedings to the extent that it did. No other perspective was seen.

The whole thing was a charade.  I don’t want to be too hard on the Mayor.  He’s a good bloke and, as I intimated earlier, I suspect without him we’d have had no Australia Day whatsoever.  Still, pathetic effort, Kiama Council.  Shame on you.

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