Australia is such a truly multicultural nation that it is very hard to pinpoint unique Australian traditions. We’ve seen several waves of immigration since colonisation. Firstly there were the Irish, British and Chinese immigrants during the gold rush years. Then the post WWII refugees from European countries, many of whom worked on major construction projects. More recently we have had Asian, middle Eastern and African refugees making Australia home. A large percentage of our population were either born overseas, or have a parent born overseas.
Our indigenous population represent the world’s oldest existing culture, having inhabited the Australian continent for over 60,000 years. They too carry their unique heritage and cultures.
With such a huge diversity of culture, background and heritage, Australia doesn’t have one definitive culture which is typical to all Australian citizens. However over the years, a number of events have emerged that have become true Australian traditions which all Australians enjoy. Most of these Australian public holidays combine our love of sports, a good barbie and a cold beer.
1. Boxing Day test cricket
Australians are passionate about “the Ashes”Cricket, as we watch our national team take on the nation touring Australia during the summer months. The Boxing Day test cricket is an Australian tradition which sees us gather in front of the television or converge on the Melbourne Cricket Ground with a cold beer and the Christmas leftovers.
The tradition goes back to the 1890’s when Boxing Day matches were held between the Victorian and New South Wales cricket teams. The initial international test matches were held during the 1950’s, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that the match became a firm Aussie tradition. After all, most blokes would rather be at the cricket than a Boxing Day sale.
2. Sydney to Hobart yacht race
If cricket isn’t your thing, then you can change the channel. Or head to Sydney Harbour to watch the start of the Sydney to Hobart Yacht race on Boxing Day. This was certainly my family tradition when we were growing up in Sydney.
The 630 nautical mile race over five days is considered one of the most difficult yacht races in the world. However the race is about more than the sleek yachts which speed their way to Hobart.
There is a carnival atmosphere at both the start and finish lines to celebrate the race. Flotillas of pleasure craft take to Sydney Harbour to watch the spectacle. Crowds gather on the shoreline to sip champagne and picnic by the water. On New Year’s Eve, the party continues in Hobart as the final yachts reach the finish line.
3. Australia Day
Australia Day was originally a celebration of the landing of the First Fleet on January 26, 1788. Which is why our national day of celebration has become somewhat controversial, with a recognition that the arrival of British colonists was no cause for celebration for our indigenous communities.
In more enlightened times, Australia Day is becoming a celebration of all that makes our nation great. The mix of cultures, history and heritage that all sections of our community contribute is also celebrated in festivals around the country during the year. For many Australians, Australia Day is the perfect opportunity to gather for a barbie with family and friends, either in the backyard, on the beach or at an organised community event.
On the Australia Day public holiday, citizenship ceremonies are held in most communities, with both local and national Australia Day awards presented to citizens for their contributions to our society.
4. ANZAC Day
The ANZAC Day public holiday on April 25 marks the anniversary of the landing of Australian and New Zealand Army Corp troops in Gallipoli in 1915.
It is a day of reverence, when Australian’s gather to commemorate the sacrifices our service men and women have made in all conflicts. Dawn services are held around the country, with wreaths and poppies laid at memorials. All but essential businesses closed until 1pm.
However once the services are over, the partying begins at most Returned Services clubs across the country. For many former servicemen, it is an opportunity to catch up with old mates for a beer or three. It is also the only day on which “Two Up”, the traditional diggers’ gambling game can legally be played. A “spinner” tosses two coins in the air, with punters betting on whether they will land heads or tails.
5. Bonfire night
The majority of Australians believe that British royalty have become somewhat irrelevant to our modern nation. However we are still very happy to celebrate the official “Queen’s Birthday” public holiday on the second weekend in June.
Traditionally, this was known as “cracker night”. When I was growing up, every family had a supply of fireworks to let off in the backyard at dark. Letterboxes were blown up by pranksters, copious “Tom Thumbs” were thrown and quite a few limbs were lost.
As a result, the more dangerous fireworks were banned, before a total ban was enforced around 30 years ago. Today the community bonfire, with professional fireworks displays is still an Australian tradition. At least we can still enjoy the simple pleasure of writing your name in the sky with a glowing sparkler.
6. Melbourne Cup Day
Melbourne Cup Day is described in Australia as “the race that stops a nation”. Which it literally does. The first Tuesday in November is only an official public holiday in Victoria. However you will find very few businesses open after lunch on Melbourne Cup Day elsewhere in Australia.
Serious race goers flock to Melbourne’s Flemington Race Course, dressed to the nines to sip champagne, nibble canapes and watch Australia’s famous thoroughbred horse race.
In the lead up to the day, everyone seems to become a bit of a racing expert. For many it is the only day of the year they “have a flutter”, with office sweepstakes organised in most workplaces.
You will find at least one Melbourne Cup function in most towns. Everyone “frocks up” and dons a ridiculous hat to head to the club or pub, enjoy a sumptuous Melbourne Cup lunch and watch the big race on TV.
7. New Year’s Eve
Like everyone else in the world, Australian’s come out to party on New Year’s Eve. However our party starts earlier than most places in the world. While the Pacific island of Samoa is the first to ring in the New Year, Australia is still one of the first places in the world to set off the fireworks.
From private parties, to the spectacular pyrotechnic displays in our major cities, most Australians enjoy a good party on New Year’s Eve. We can then spend the public holiday on New Year’s Day watching the rest of the world catch up.
With Australia’s diverse cultural heritage, our public holidays and love of sport unite us in some unique Australian traditions.