The first time I saw Australia Day ‘jingoism’ in full swing was 2007, in Perth.
Until then, for me, Australia Day was just a quiet, public holiday, where one reflected on what it is like to live in this ‘Lucky Country’.
I never thought of flag waving or demonstrating loudly how wonderful it is to be Australian. It was just a day in the year where Aussies had a breather, before the serious business of the working year; my wife made damper, we perhaps listened to the Seekers and finished the day with a BBQ.
But on this particular hot, windy day, at Hilary’s Harbour at Sorrento in Perth, there were cars going this way and that, with flags being waved out the window and bogans – are they called bogans in the west? – dressing, well, like bogans, and chanting ‘Aussie. Aussie. Aussie’.
Today this overt display of patriotism is widespread, some of it quaint, some of it crass, and some of it – the slogans anyway – intimidating, telling others they’re ‘not as Australian as me’. I think some of it is a reaction to increased levels of immigration, and, the only thing I will say in any sort of defence of that ‘behaviour’, is that I believe immigration levels are too high, and, as a result, Australia is changing too quickly, and in some cases, too radically.
My wife, Marie and I had left Brisbane for Perth on January 4, for our (23 day) Western Australia holiday, a chance to explore the south west of the State in particular, and for Marie to catch up with one of her best friends, Perth travel agent, Michelle Smith (nee Gordon), a lass she had travelled with in New Zealand, back in the early 1970s.
Michelle, originally from Longreach in outback Queensland, was now married to a Kiwi lad, Geoff Smith, and they had two children, Cameron and Channell and lived in the northern Perth suburb of Butler, as in ‘I’ll have you Butler’. (You Tube ‘On the Buses’).
It was Marie’s first time in Perth, and my third. I had been there twice to cover Western Reds’ rugby league matches against Brisbane Broncos, both times in 1996. The first was a trial at Bassendean Oval, where winger, Wendell Sailor was the crowd favorite. The second time was at the WACA, and once again ‘Big Del’ was the star. Michelle and Geoff had hosted me for a BBQ after the Bassendean match.
(The last time I was in Perth was 2012, when I covered the Broncos v South Sydney match at East Perth, the match in which Broncos’ Test winger, Jharal Yow Yeh’s career effectively came to an end as a result of an horrific ankle injury).
Our first stop, in 2007, was Fremantle (‘Freo), the port city to the south of Perth.
The Little Creatures Brewery was the place to be, and was at the forefront of the slowly emerging craft beer industry in Australia. Crown and Anchor was my beer of choice. For dinner we tucked into BBQ seafood at Kallis Brothers Seafood Market Cafe, with the Fremantle fishing fleet in the background.
On our first full day in the west, we caught the ferry to ‘Rotto’ (Rottnest Island), taking a bus trip around the 19 sq km island, before walking from Parakeet Bay to Thompson Bay. We had a pie and coffee beside a group from Aberdeen in Scotland, before hopping on the bus again, this time alighting at Salmon Bay, for a walk to the lighthouse. What was called ‘The Emergency Bus’ (the last one, I think) took us to the ferry. And yes, we did see a couple of Quokkas. Marie thought they were just glorified rats.
Back in Perth, Michelle took us on the train to the end of the line – Clarkson Station – before driving us home, via a bottle shop, where two dodgy characters were harassing staff, to such a degree, the police were called.
A BBQ dinner was accompanied by Goundrey’s Wine (Mt Barker WA) and Little Creatures Pal Ale.
The next day we walked around Lake Joondalup, before beers at Indian Ocean Brewery at Mindarie, followed by pizza and beers at the Smith’s English neighbor’s place. He was an engineer, hoping to get residency here.
Geoff, a keen four wheel driver, took Marie, Michelle and I on a wild trip in the sand dunes, heading north to places such as Yanchep, Two Rocks, Guilderton and Sea Bird.
Another BBQ dinner, and this time the guests were ‘Fergy’ and his Maori wife, Minna, the latter a friend from Marie and Michelle’s New Zealand days. They lived in a wheat belt town to the east of Perth.
Beautiful ‘King’s Park’ was the focal point of the early part of January 8, after picking up our hire car for the drive to the South West (see ‘A Little Gem’ and ‘Is It Rickety Gate or Rickety Kate’ on this website).
We returned to Perth on January 25, enjoying a walk and afternoon tea at Cottlesloe Beach, where police confronted an indigenous chap in the park.
Former rugby union referee, Roy Williams, (originally from New South Wales) was one of the founders of the Cottlesloe Rugby League Club, which played in the inaugural WA competition in 1948. Fremantle, South Perth, Perth and Applecross were other foundation clubs.
Prior to World War II, only union had been played in the west, but in 1946, the Great Britain rugby league side played a match in Perth, against players mainly chosen from the Armed Forces. This helped lay the foundations for the 13 man code.
But I digress.
After the beach, it was back to Geoff and Michelle’s for a spaghetti bolognese dinner.
As mentioned earlier, we celebrated Australia Day with Geoff and Michelle, the best part, a low key concert in their local park, with music provided by ‘Peace, Love and All That’. One of the blokes we met was a train driver, earning $150,000 a year in the Pilbara.
At Perth Airport, before the flight home, I chatted to Ian Greig, younger bother of former England captain, Tony, the Channel 9 commentator. Ian, himself a fine cricketer, had taken the Churchie (Brisbane private school) First X1 team to the west for matches against local schools.
On the flight home, I watched the movie ‘The Queen’ and ruminated on what it meant to be Australian.
<Footnote>Tragically, Michelle Smith was murdered in a bag snatch attempt in Thailand in 2012, not long after her 60th birthday. My wife had been to the birthday party, and then found herself flying west for the funeral.
1 Kings Park, Perth
2 Rottnest Island
3 The coast north of Perth
4 Marie Ricketts (right) with Geoff and Michelle Smith
5 Geoff and Michelle Smith; Marie Ricketts and Minna Ferguson
6 Australia Day concert, Butler, Perth.