News National Why Australia is the un-cool cousin when it comes to national holidays
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Why Australia is the un-cool cousin when it comes to national holidays

Australia Day
Little Britain? Heading off to Australia Day celebrations. Photo: Getty
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Those Luxembourgers have the right idea. Their national day, known as the Grand Duke’s Official Birthday, is celebrated ‪on June‬ 23 every year, even though there has never been an actual Grand Duke who had reason to blow out the candles on his birthday cake on that particular day.

The ever practical burger folk picked the 23rd as their national party day because the weather is likely to be nicer in June than, say, January, when a Grand Duchess once had a birthday.

Amazing but true: they flip over to the Grand Duchess’s Official Birthday when they find themselves in possession of a female monarch at party time. Very practical people, those Luxembourgers.

I imagine they’d be quite nonplussed by Australia’s annual culture war over January 26. Australia Day? Invasion day? Survival Day? Why not just pick another day, wonders Luxembourg.

A nice one with good weather and maybe fewer megafires or cyclones, they muse, while washing down a hearty feast of crunchy, deep-fried Gromperekichelcher with a nice glass of Gewürztraminer.

Why not indeed?

Luxembourg knows how to party. Why can’t we be like Luxembourg? Photo: Getty

Australia is, of course, unusual in having a National Day that specifically trolls its First Nation peoples, but we are a little peculiar in other ways too. Almost all nation states salute their creation myths by recalling the date on which they fired up a glorious revolution, kicked out a brutal occupier, or finally got out from under of the dead grey hand of New Zealand. (Huzzah for the Cook Islands Constitution Day! Huzzah!)

A large and unsurprising number of countries pop the champagne corks on the date of their throwing off the colonial yokes of Great Britain and France. A couple have recently had new national days imposed upon them by Beijing as it gobbles up the colonial tidbits scattered around its periphery. Sorry, Macau, all your national celebrations are belong to China now.

Australia is not alone in having to deal with contending claims for the national birthday, but most other countries don’t turn themselves inside out about it every 12 months.

The smart ones just toss out alternatives like handfuls of M&Ms and Smarties at a toddler’s birthday in a ball pit. Argentina has two, Bulgaria three, and the rock-steady party peeps on the island of Malta kick back for five, count them five days of national getting-it-on. (My favourite of which is the festival of Sette Giugno, which celebrates a 1919 bread riot).

As overwrought and under-medicated as some of the antipodean pundit class can get come the last week of January, perhaps this is one occasion where we could put aside our reflexive insularity and take some advice from, say, Brunei. Like us, they achieved independence from the United Kingdom on January 1. Unlike us they were shrewd enough to understand that New Year’s Day is meant for recovering from celebrations, not kicking them off.

This monument in Malta commemorates Sette Giugno, an infamous bread riot. Now that’s a national day. Photo: Getty

Brunei pumped the brakes on the party wagon until February 23, giving everyone plenty of time to sober up and pull on a long pair of pants for the citizenship ceremonies.

Even the Falkland Islands could offer a quiet word in our collective shell-like, having started off with a bit of a dud pick for their national day. It used to recall a moment in 1592 when a very lost English explorer, who had been looking for the Northwest Passage, instead found himself at the other end of the globe looking at the Falkland Islands for the first time.

The defeat of the Argentinian invasion of 1982 afforded the islanders a chance to rethink their commemorative choices, which they did, but only after the island’s council decided they also needed a spare holiday to mark the re-introduction of “Peat Cutting Monday”  – a very important local occasion indeed.

The arrival of half a dozen prison ships and their escorts to commence the occupation of an occupied land will one day be seen as a bit of a dud pick for a party, too.

It might well persist in the national calendar, in the way of Malta’s bread riots or Belize’s remembrance of the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day, when slave-owning English woodcutters successfully axe-murdered a bunch of disease-raddled invading conquistadors.

Sometimes national days do recall the worst of times. But smarter, cooler countries usually have another pick in their back pocket.

We will undoubtedly do the same too, one day. Perhaps when, like Harry and Megs, we cut our ties to the British monarchy.

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