Monday, January 29, 2007


What I did on Australia Day

Australia Day is not really wildly celebrated in Australia. When I worked in London, I was aware that one day every year the Tube would be filled with cheerful green-and-yellow painted hoons (a word I've only learned since coming here) conducting the drunken singing of Waltzing Matilda by waving inflatable kangaroos. I thought that, apart from the shop in Covent Garden selling Vegemite and Tim Tams, that was it for Aussie ex-pats.

But there is a new tradition here in Australia! Triple J, the independent radio station, plays the Top 100 songs of the last year, as voted for by listeners. Of course there's a lot of debate about which ones will absolutely, definitely be in the Top 10, and which bands have to make it into the list somehow, and which ones you voted for... people even bet on it, and offices will run sweepstakes. It's not quite The Race That Stops The Nation (the Melbourne Cup, which does get people to pause for 5 minutes of their day.) This is more a long backdrop to the entire day - the 100 tracks take around 8 hours to play, as there's constant waffling from the presenters, relatively pointless interviews with the bands ("How does it feel to be Number 34 on the Triple J Top 100?" "We're Number 34! That's so awesome! Whooooo! Shout outs to my Mum and the Adelaide Hills massive!"), and phonecalls from people having parties and barbecues where they listen to the radio for 8 hours "It's madness here in Woolloomoolloo! We're eating snags! We want Scissor Sisters!"

I was invited to a slightly more sedate Australia Day barbeque, and it was actually really mellow and relaxing. We snacked on an irresistible dip made from a hollowed out cob of bread, filled with cream cheese, herbs and French onion soup mix among other mystic ingredients. People arrived. Beer was drunk. The images are of classic Australian icons: the flag on a Hills Hoist (we'd call it a rotary clothesline, but here it's a national icon as it was invented in South Australia); and an amazing Fisher Price toy barbeque set up next to the full sized one. They say kids learn by copying their parents' behaviour - well, here you can train your "bub" in the fine art of sausage sizzling just like his dad!

As people arrived, we began eating, and eating, and eating. I'd like to give a big shout out to Pete's family and the fantastic fruit, vegetables and eggs they grow and share with us: the tomato salad I made was much admired. One dessert was absolutely delicious but sent me into paroxysms of guilt. To make Sinful Ice Cream Cake, crush a packet of choc chip cookies and mix with melted butter to form a cheesecake base. Then take a pint of choc chip ice cream and stir into it ... half a jar of crunchy peanut butter. spread on top of the base and freeze. To serve, make a chocolate fudge sauce by melting dark chocolate with cream. This is amazing, but will glue you to the floor for the rest of the day. The other pic is of a much lighter dessert, and the perfect way to get people eating healthy fruit: skewers of strawberries and melon-balled canteloupes, watermelon and rock melon. They're just so pretty!

The rest of the day was spent reclining on the lawn, listening to music and debating our favourite bands. For facts to back up the argument, people went on the internet to check whether the Triple J website was updating in real time. And it was ... on Eastern time. Sydney is half an hour ahead of South Australia, so the top 5 were already up there, seared into Pete's retinas as he gave a howl. "I didn't want to know that! And you don't either!" he threatened, before dropping increasingly obvious hints about who we'd be hearing next.

The Australian flag was even more controversial at the Big Day Out music festival, where organisers tried to ban it on the grounds that it would incite racial tension. That has happened in the past, but a huge public outcry saw thousands of music lovers proudly flourishing their Southern Cross capes, hats, t-shirts and even tattoos to the TV cameras as they walked in. The flag is in question for various reasons - there are various sides to the debate here.

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