Believe it or not, I hadn’t heard of Australia Day until 2004. It was only thanks to a promotion from the Sun Newspaper which offered a free beer on Australia Day in Bournemouth’s Walkabout Pub, that I realised it was in fact Australia Day. I spent the best part of 6 years living in the Dorset seaside town, meeting a fair few Australians in the process. The first of these was Australian Emma (Broomhall) who was, at the time enrolled onto the same course and year as me studying Public Relations. After that I met George Sutton (working at Bournemouth seafront), Hannah Tornianen plus Amy Jade (while working for Red Uneventful Cuisine), and sadly I also met an Australian guy who I didn’t like – the two faced, conniving, liar of an alcoholic, otherwise known as Gareth Kalejs.
All that said, in 2004 I enjoyed a pint of Foster’s in Bournemouth’s Walkabout Bar with Australian Emma and some friends. I never ever expected to be in Australia, and certainly not on Australia Day. But in 2010, my 32nd different calendar year of actual existence I finally was in Australia for Australia Day. In case you don’t know, Australia Day falls on the 26th January 2010. This year it was on a Tuesday. I was working in PJ Gallagher’s Irish Pub at the time and I had the day time off, but had to work the previous night until closing time and also was due in work on Australia Day itself at 5 pm.
So for me the celebrations for Australia Day really began in work the night before. It was meant to be a busy night and I started at 6 pm. Australia Day Eve was the big night in PJ Gallagher’s, as with people off work the next day they head out for a drink. We had a DJ on from 8 pm. The first 2 – 3 hours of the shift were normal, good craic with the locals and regulars, and just after 8 pm, the lady doing Australia Day face paints and tattoos had arrived. She was wearing a white top, had blonde hair and was extremely pretty.
I spoke to her a few times during the night, and near the start I got her to put 3 of the temporary tattoos on my face – 3 of the Australian fleg. Her name was Codi and she was also the camerawoman for the night. The photos from nights in PJ Gallagher’s are put up on the PJ Gallagher’s Website and on the Facebook page. I’ve appeared in quite a few of them. The night got busy and we were rammed behind the bar serving away right through until 1.30 am when the DJ stopped.
By that stage, tips had been good, the banter had been great and although I was tired, I was buzzing. The DJ had played quite a few Australian classics during his set, including two of my favourites, a Kylie Minogue cover version of ‘Celebration’ and ‘Down Under’ by Reggae Band Men At Work. By 2 am the shift was over, and for those two hours after midnight I was earning 42 Dollars an hour!!
I got home and every one was asleep. We had planned to be up early the next morning for the 6 am start of the Parramatta park AUSTRALIA DAY festivities. I got to bed at 4 am, had 2 hours sleep and was awoke by the loud noises coming from the park already. Through the window of our bedroom in the Belgian Street flat, we also could see a hot air balloon rising into the hot summer sky. Remember folks, January in Australia means summer and it means hot!
Me and Neil were up like a flash, not wanting to miss our once in a lifetime (for now anyway, as it seemed at the time) chance to experience Australia on Australia Day. A few days before I had picked up the brochures from Parramatta City Council, detailing the days events. I had tried in vain to get tickets for the hot air balloons. Unfortunately they were all sold out. I still have never been in a hot air balloon. I’ve had enough opportunities to do it!
I lived in Bournemouth for almost 6 years – where they have the famous “Wave Balloon” flying high from Bournemouth’s summer gardens. I walked past it almost every day on my way to work there, at either the seafront, the BIC or the Pavilion Theatre. Yet I never got in till the balloon and went up it. I also had the chance in 2007, while traveling round New Zealand’s North Island, Hamilton has an air balloon. I had already been sky diving the day before, so somehow wasn’t going to justify the expense for a second day in a row.
My other room mate, Daniel refused to get up – lying in, and missing some of the great free entertainment! But Neil and I had already arrived at Parramatta Park by 6.45 am and already the place was packed!! I had my green and yella Australia T-shirt on me, and my green Northern Ireland football shorts. Green and yellow seem to be the main colours of Australia – the rugby, cricket and football teams all play in these colours. Even though the national fleg is red, white and blue, and includes a quarter size union fleg (sometimes referred till as a union jack) in the top right. I also bought a mini Australian fleg for the day ($1) and had my 3 free fleg tattoos from the night before.
First up we went to the Aerial Carnivale section where there were all the hot air balloons taking off, and beside it a massive stage. THis was for circus shows. We stopped and watched some of the first show – there were two performers – one an English guy from London! the other was a gay Australian who was very annoying and kept saying “Wayyyne” is a gay accent to one of the guys who had gotten on stage. He was dancing in a very gay way to the Dead Or Alive song “You Spin Me Round” while also balancing hooplas (large plastic rings) on a pole he had attached to himself.
After watching a bit of the circus show it was time to take a walk through the park and check out all of the other things that were on. We saw the main stage, which was at the foot of a grassy bank. The main stage was just being set up, as it would be used for the main events and music from 6 pm that night. We headed round and did a full lap of the park, seeing the kids corner, the wine festival (which wasn’t opening until 10 am) and several stalls selling Aussie memorabilia.
We had a quick check of the guide booklet and realised we wanted to see the circus again at 8 am and go wine tasting at 10 am and then to watch the dogs and animal encounters from 10.30 am onwards. I had brung some food basics with me and ate them while we walked back up to the Aerial Carnivale. It was certainly a great atmosphere. There were lots of kids about, lots of families and people from all ages and backgrounds. A lot of them were dressed up and the day was very hot.
Back on stage there was the English circus guy. He was juggling fire and even more impressive he started juggling live chainsaws, while they were turned out. Very dangerous! He did a great job of pumping up and interacting with the audience, much better than the previous gay guy. Also to the left of the main stage was a female acrobat. She swung around and moved from swing to swing. I noticed there was no sign of a safety net, so she must have been experienced. The English guy had called up a guy from the crowd called Brian to assist him in an act where he was riding a bike. He also fell into a box in a comedy circus act. It reminded me of Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and watching old pre- World War II comedy with my Granda during the 1980s.
Soon though it was time for the “International food and wine tasting fair”. Being on a budget and not wanting to pay a lot for these types of things, we decided not to eat there, given we’d already had breakfast and we were going to have an Aussie Day barbecue at the flat later on (organised by Ruben and Rebecca). The wine was $2 for a shot, or $6 for a glass. I was working later anyway, so just decided to go cheap and pay $2 for a quick shot.
I had a local sparkling rose wine. Neil and I just sat down in the heat and relaxed. We both already knew that it was possibly the only time ever we would be in Parramatta for Australia Day. We also knew that in 3 days time we’d be on route to Canberra, and I’d be leaving the city of Parramatta behind, for now. Funny that as I was just beginning to get cosy and really enjoying it. The wine was nice, but in honesty the water after that was nicer – colder and just what we needed on the hot day. It was a Burnbrae Sparkling Rose.
We left the wine and food area next and headed up to some of the stalls. Local popular rugby team the Parramatta Eels had a stand with free yella and blue balloons. I took one and also filled in my name to win VIP tickets to a Parramatta Eels match and to join their mailing list. I still haven’t watched live rugby in Australia, never mind seeing my team of choice in the Eels themselves, but at least I would be kept up to date and now had a kiddies balloon with their logo on it!
There was some Indian style dancing happening across the way on the Village Hub Stage. This had a decent crowd around it and was popular, especially in Parramatta, where the population is very ethnically mixed. You get Australians, Indians, Chinese, Lebanese, Nepalese and countless other nationalities all living in this city. Next port of call was for animal encounters, the chance to see a mini zoo.
There was still no sign of an Australian Wallaby or a Kangaroo however. The two guys working there were clearly animal lovers though. One of them had a snake, the other a lizard. There were two types of lizard and all the kids were so enthusiastically queueing up to touch them and get their photo took with them. Gosh when I was a kid you’d have nothing like that. A trip to the supermarket and a browse at the Lego toys in there was our kind of bliss. After the kids had their go, I touched two types of lizard. One a bearded dragon and the other was the interesting blue tongue lizard.
The blue tongue lizard had slimy skin like a snake, they have 4 legs are hard when you touch them and also have a very blue tongue. A colour like the old Hubba Bubba blue bubblegum I used to chew. They are a really cool looking lizard and I have since seen one in the wild (whilst cutting broccoli in a field in East Devonport, Tasmania). The guys there said that later on there is more time and that everyone can hold a snake and wrap it round your neck. I said I was OK and didn’t need to as I had already done that in Batu, Malaysia a few months before.
We then walked past the “classic cars” display posing for a photo beside the Aston Martins and Mustangs. There was also a BMX and Skateboard track beside it. There is certainly fun for all ages on Australia Day in Parramatta. While in the festival park itself, we had one more thing we definitely wanted to see and that was the dog show. It was Flyball Dog Demonstrations. Basically a number of dogs would jump over some obstacles, racing against each other to collect a tennis ball and race back.
The dog show wasn’t very entertaining as it happened, and although I filmed it, I spent some time relaxing at the back out of the hot sun in the shade. In fact the best moment was probably the dogs barking away at the start getting revved up for the show! Soon after that we left the actual park itself and headed into the city to buy some food and drink for the barbecue. On the way we stopped off though.
First stop was on the corner entrance to Parramatta Park where a Scottish Caledonian bagpipe band were playing!! It reminded me a wee bit of the 12th July Festival in Northern Ireland. Except this was just a bit hotter!!! I recognised the Ulster song Killaloe from their set. I used to love marching to that song whilst in 10th Bangor Boys Brigade in the 1990s. Me and Neil stayed and watched the bagpipes. We still hadn’t heard from Dan though and it was now almost mid-day. We also popped into the RSL club.
In there they have lots of memorabilia from the wars. RSL clubs in Australia are basically similar to our British Legion Clubs back home – set up as member’s clubs to reward those who fought for us in the wars. In Australia all the big towns and cities have RSL Clubs. Me and Daniel had been in a few times before, for some food and drinks (the beers in there are only $4). After that in the heat, we headed to Aldi – the German shop!
Most of Parramatta was shut down as Australia Day is a bank holiday, but in Aldi we found sausages, baps, cheese, tortillas and dips for the barbecue. By this stage Dan had called Neil (I still didn’t have an Australian phone!! And work used to use Dan’s phone to contact me) and said that my work had called. Straight away I phoned back and the manager Anthony had wanted me in to start at 4 pm instead of 5 pm! So that was great, an extra hour of 42 Dollars an hour pay plus I got to be indoors out of the sun!
From the park we walked back home, where already the barbecue was in full swing. Ruben as ever was on the barbecue and Rebecca was helping. Pete and Daniel were lurking around and there were two new faces – Lambrini and Kirstie. These were two young pretty Australian ladies – friends of Rubens. So there were 8 of us in the flat and soon we were eating.
Ruben cooked loads of big steaks – they were all cut and shaped into the shape of the island of Australia!! There was plenty of sauce and bread to go with them and I had two of them and also a sausage bap. I then relaxed for 30 minutes and got ready for work. I left the flat at 3.30 pm ready for work. And it wasn’t even busy when I got there – the regulars were all in, but it wasn’t particularly busy. I was working on the Brew Bar on my own. We had a few visits from the local peelers that day and Nicole was my manager. There were no drunks though.
At 9 pm on Australia Day there are always fireworks in Parramatta (and all over Australia), and just before 9 pm the bar had gone all quiet. Nicole knew how much I would enjoy watching the fireworks, so she let me go upstairs and look out the first floor window to watch them! What lovely people Australians are. The bar and restaurant were not at all busy, so I was also allowed to get one of the ladies to watch them with me. Young Kristie was up for it, so we sat and stared out the window together. I turned the video on my camera on hoping to catch some of the fireworks. We heard them and saw some lights flickering in the sky, but we were too far away so couldn’t really see them. It was still a nice memory. 3 hours later I had finished my shift! It was my last evening shift there, as I would have only one more day shift before moving on.
And it was home to sleep for me, after an action packed AUSTRALIA DAY, where I not only enjoyed the celebrations but also earned 420 Dollars working! Happy Australia Day everyone! 26th January. Don’t you forget it!
Who was at the barbecue – Jonny, Ruben, Neil, Daniel, Lambrini, Rebecca, Pete, Kirstie
Favourite Food – Beef Steaks in the shape of Australia
Hours worked – 10 (from 12 noon – 2 am and from 4 pm – 12 midnight)
Rate per hour – 42 Dollars
Money earned – 420 Australian Dollars (before tax)
Sleep had – 2.5 hours
KEY SONGS –
MEN AT WORK – DOWN UNDER:
DEAD OR ALIVE – YOU SPIN ME ROUND:
REM – CIRCUS ENVY:
CLASSIC CARS ON AUSTRALI DAY IN PARRAMATTA:
WINE TASTING ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
FIRE JUGGLING ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
SCOTTISH BAND ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
MAGICIAN ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
DOGS ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
INDIAN DANCING ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
OUR BARBECUE IN THE FLAT ON AUSTRALIA DAY:
TRYING TO WATCH THE FIREWORKS FROM PJ GALLAGHER’S ON AUSTRALIA DAY: