Yes, She Doth Still 'Rain' Over Us! Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney

by wandering freditor / Feb 08, 2015 /

On a drizzling day, when a distant British Queen sanctioned a Phillipant Australian Prime Minister’s “Captain’s Call,” turning a Pommy (Aussie slang for English) Duke (Phillip the Duke of Edinburgh, the Queen’s husband) into Knight, we celebrated Australia Day on Sydney Harbour, afloat on a boat. The Captain’s call reigned over us all day, and no doubt will in the long beyond, bringing with it a large dollop of incredulity and laughter on day meant to underpin our “independence from Britain.” It has been, after all, over 200 years since that fellow traveller to the Portuguese and Dutch, Captain Cook, laid his claim to this land, adding another cartographic “pink piece” to the British Empire; over 100 years since we first became Australia; and over 60 years since Britain dumped us as a preferential trading partner, to enter the European Common Market, which became the European Union. If we cringed on the boat, it was not just because of the leaden sky! Indeed we have our own Prime Minister Abbott, (and once a Treasurer called Costello) but the “joke” is on all Australians. Thank goodness there is to be an election later this year!

 

Colours to the mast. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Colours to the mast

 

Sails, and symbolic sails. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Sails, and symbolic sails

 

Tall ships are coming! Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Tall ships are coming

 

In sepia.  Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

In sepia

 

Looking for the Mississippi.  Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Looking for the Mississippi

 

Governor-General's abode (R) and Prime Minister's Sydney abode (L). Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Governor-General's abode (R) and Prime Minister's Sydney abode (L)

 

Australia Day has not been without its controversy, and while there is still residual Aboriginal focus on the “invasion” of their land on 26 January, 1788 by Captain Arthur Phillip, his military retinue and First Fleet of 11 ships to establish a penal settlement, there is now greater acceptance that all Australians have cause to celebrate this day. The Aboriginal flag flies beside the somewhat anachronistic Australian flag, with its Union Jack in one corner, on all Australian and State buildings and facilities, and there is aboriginal consultation and inclusiveness in policy, welfare, sporting events, and ceremonies. There are still grumbles but the application of policy is still “a work in progress.”

 

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi, Oi, Oi. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie Oi, Oi, Oi

 

We set off from an anchorage besides a tree-lined rocky finger of the land at Northbridge, and made our way out of Middle Harbour and through the Pacific swells that come through the magnificent Heads to gather in Sydney Harbour. As did the majestic white P&O cruise ships, serene at anchor amid the wavelets in the bay, on the approaches to the iconic Harbour Bridge, so much more ship-like than a lovely liner knotted and restrained against a pier. Our “Captain” had himself commanded big grey ships, and our short and safe voyage took little time in our powerful craft. Within spitting distance of one of the Northern pylons of the Harbour Bridge, we were the first pleasure craft at anchorage in Lavender Bay, opposite the Opera House, Circular Quay - the “Dress Circle” for the promised action aplenty. After us came the multitude, in craft big and small, and down on us came the gentle rain from heaven, upon the place beneath, although Bard, I daresay, it was hardly twice blessed. Oh Mercy.

 

P&O Liners at anchor. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

P&O Liners at anchor

 

We waited, drawing on Champagne, beer, and be-flagged little Lammingtons, the Australian delicacy of sponge cake, dipped in chocolate, cut into mouth-wide size cubes, and rolled in shredded coconut. Yum, yum, yum, look out tum, here I come! Oh lots of “Irish-looking” raw food too (many of the convicts were Irish!), carrot and celery, for those dips of avocado, French onion, and Hummus, just as well of course, because few Aussies last more than a rich Lammo or two. It’s the ritual, you see; it’s what makes you True Blue, mate, along with meat pies, Holden cars, cricket bats, and knowing about the Dog on the Tucker Box!

The day had been organised with non-stop fun afloat, the first gentle manoeuvre in the harbour of the newly commissioned HMAS Canberra, an Amphibious Assault Ship, a joint venture built in Spain and Melbourne. Grey ship, grey skies, a flight by the Roulettes, the Australian Red Arrows, cancelled because of the low ceiling. But the tugs, and ferries, and old ship of sail, were undeterred, as befits old salts with the wind in their receding hair. At noon, a 21 gun salute boomed across the harbour followed by thousands of Australians loudly singing the national anthem with that dynamic duo, gusto and enthusiasm.

 

HMAS Canberra in front of the Opera House. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

HMAS Canberra in front of the Opera House
 

Amid the drizzle, the “races” continued, veritable fleets of contestants surrounded by accompanying mosquito yachts and large pleasure craft, charging to the finish line under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. I felt for the organisers who had planned this day a year ago and had the right to expect a radiant sun and bodies lathered in lotions, with wine and beer and lots to cheer. Instead, the fleets loomed out of an almost ghostly mist, at times a melange of mizzen masts and topsails, the salvaged and restored Clipper James Craig, and the replica of Captain Cook’s Endeavour, the ship he sailed when “discovering Australia” in 1770, undoubtedly the stars of the show.

 

The restored clipper, the James Craig. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

The restored Clipper, The James Craig

 

The replica Endeavour. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

The replica Endeavour

 

But it was just as much the day of the bunters, the doughty ferries which run every day of the week, disgorging some of the most lucky commuters in the world, from all points of the magnificent harbour to Circular Quay in the city, and serenely taking them home again. And camera toting tourists at times in-between. True, Sydney is not “just a harbour,” but the harbour is what makes Sydney so ‘wedding cake’ magnificent, even in such galling weather. There was a superb yacht “dance” to the music of Ravel’s Bolero, the haunting percussion crescendo climaxing to perfection as they did their final turn before the Opera House, to the rousing cheers of those in boats and along the shores.

 

One of the Sydney Ferries decked up for Race Day. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

One of the Sydney Ferries decked up for Race Day

 

Spectator craft. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Spectator craft

 

Old style tug and the Manly ferry in front of the Opera House. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Old style tug and the Manly ferry in front of the Opera House

 

Steam harbour boat of bygone years. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Steam harbour boat of bygone years

 

The synchronised yachting event done to Ravel’s Bolero. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

The synchronised yachting event done to Ravel’s Bolero

 

Synchronized yachting against the Harbour Bridge. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Synchronized yachting against the Harbour Bridge
 

We had a magnificent lunch, sandwiches with meats and smoked salmon constructed on site, jiggling food and plate amid the rock and roll of dozens of passing propellors, a lurch to the left, a prop to the right, take a quick bite and hang on tight! And still the rain came down, heavier now, but not dampening spirits or spectacle. Or enthusiasm by those on boats or those ashore, the Harbour Bridge still covered in human fly-specs along its walk-ways and atop its arch, although I imagined, they would have been decidedly soggy, albeit spirit indomitable.

 

The launch next door. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

The launch next door

 

Australia Day Ferry Race. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

The Australia Day Ferry Race

 

The HMAS Canberra eventually called time on the blanket of wetness and with her crew aligned on the deck, gingerly nudged her way into the main channel amid a flurry of smoke from flares fired from the escorting yachts, adding blobs of colour to the dismal day. It was time for us to go too, swimming against the flood of boats and the floating palaces full of undoubtedly well fuelled and fed guests. Others did too, turning the Harbour into a criss-cross of craft and canvas, tugs and tinnys, an armada travelling to various ports hoping for better weather “next year!” The engines roared and we rode the swell rolling in through the harbour heads and made it back to the anchorage beside the jetty. Time to break out the left-overs. After all … why carry those heavy beers and wines back up to the car? Plenty of time to “sink a few,” in calmer waters, and get ready for the barbie later that night, and watch the Australia Day fireworks from the luxury of a non-moving, harbour-front apartment!

 

Smoke and minnows - HMAS Canberra is leaving the building! Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Smoke and minnows - HMAS Canberra is leaving the building!

 

Showboat and a ‘go’ float. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Showboat and a ‘go’ float.

 

Homeward bound. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Homeward bound

 

Past Bradley's Head. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

Past Bradley's Head

 

At the pier again. Celebrating Australia Day in Sydney Harbour

At the pier again

 

 

 

Winfred Peppinck is the Tales of the Traveling Editor for Wandering Educators

 

All photos courtesy and copyright Winfred Peppinck