Australia Day Weekend

January 26th was Australia Day. This year, it happened to fall on a Friday, which–here in Perth–meant a three-day weekend full of festivities, frivolity,  protests, and cultural events. We had the opportunity to witness all four.

Perth (January 26, 2018)

Our Australia Day experience started in the Perth Central Business District (CBD) where, perpendicular to large pedestrian walkways, there are smaller walkways called “arcades.” The arcades are mercifully swathed in shade and tame breezes. It was in one of these areas where we sat and had some food before heading off.

After lunch, the art museum was, again, excellent. This time, we concentrated on sections devoted to Aboriginal and local artists. Much of the art was focused on the connection of the Aboriginal people to the land and to stories. There were many beautiful pieces. We also saw art reflecting the hardships and sorrow of a history not unlike that of Native Americans in the United States. For example, we were struck by the sculpture below depicting the aftereffects of nuclear testing by the British in the 1950s.

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Onus, Lin. Maralinga. 1990; fiberglass, pigment, plexiglass, and paper stickers; The Art Gallery of Western Australia, Perth

With the arresting art on our minds, we sat down for a cold drink outside before heading down to the water.

We happened to sit down right next to a large organized protest that would dominate the Perth news coverage of Australia Day.

I understood bits and pieces about the protest. A man from Melbourne whom I met days earlier on our King’s Park tour told me that the date for Australia Day is controversial–similar to the controversy surrounding Columbus Day in the United States. He said the January 26th date commemorating the 1788 arrival in Australia of the First Fleet from Great Britain–which to some is a occassion for celebration–marks a day of mourning for many indigenous Australians and their supporters.

Because of the explanation from my Melbourne acquaintance, I had a vague understanding of the reasons for the protest. What I did not know is how much momentum there is for the “Change the Date” movement. You can see from the picture below that many people are in favor not of doing away with Australia Day—a day for celebrating Australia as a country—but rather for moving the date of the celebration.

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Against the backdrop of this protest that eventually turned into a march, the Birak concert we were about attend at the Supreme Court Gardens on the Swan River carried even more meaning for us.

We learned that “Birak” is the Noongar word for the current summer season. The concert began in the midafternoon and included a series of performers from different Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural groups in Australia. At many points, organizers and performers reminded the audience of the significance of the day’s protest and march.

That afternoon we saw many talented musicians, singers, and dancers. One singer-songwriter’s performance was particularly affecting. Strumming on an acoustic guitar, she sang an original song imagining her parents’ courtship; she prefaced the song by describing how dark skin has been maligned in history, but that to her mother, her father’s skin was as beautiful as the night sky.

Dancers were accompanied by driving percussion and the haunting sounds of didgeridoos. Below is a member of one of my favorite dance groups composed solely of young people.

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Member of the Noongar Wadumbah Dance Group

At the end of the day, we felt privileged to have spent Australia Day learning about and appreciating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture.

King’s Park (January 27, 2018)

On this day, we opted for a change of pace (and recovery from having walked several miles in the heat the day before). During the day, we mainly stayed in our home base of Subiaco, which is a Perth suburb with a fun, funky vibe and plenty of restaurants. In the evening, we ventured to nearby King’s Park for Moonlight Cinema. This glorious outing entailed lying out on a bean bag in the grass with a picnic dinner and ice cream bars with hundreds of other families. We were grateful for the respite.

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One Day in Fremantle (January 28, 2018)

“One Day in Fremantle” was recommended by a friend of ours who lives in Darwin. It takes place every year in the seaside town of Fremantle in a large park by the water called the Esplanade.

The goal of the event is to bring the community together. An organizer even asked us to take a survey focusing on whether the event was successful in that regard. It was a beautiful way to end the weekend, and many diverse cultures were represented. There were hands-on activities like weaving and henna painting, as well as main stage entertainment. Below is a picture of Syd getting help with screen printing a t-shirt.

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And here is a video of the musical group “Junkadelic” who handed out homemade instruments for the crowd to join in. What a mix of instruments! It was New Orleans jazz meets Recycled Percussion meets traditional Australian music. Can you spot the didgeridoo?!?

And here is a group doing a traditional Chinese dance complete with percussion:

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This is another photo that I think captures the cultural, artistic, and musical diversity represented in Western Australia. It shows a statue honoring Bon Scott–the original singer of AC/DC. He was from Freemantle.

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And here was the highlight of our day and another example of a mixing of musical influences: Danzal Baker, a.k.a. Baker Boy. He is a hip hop artist from Milingimbi in North East Arnhem Land in Northern Territory. He will be opening for 50 Cent when he comes to Australia! This song included a didgeridoo. Words fall short when it comes to describing how awesome he was, so I am posting a clip here:

I am ending this post with a picture from our Ferris wheel ride overlooking the water (which includes a shot of the famous pub and brewery Little Creatures where we had dinner), a Freemantle sunset, and a photo of the Ferris wheel on the Esplanade lit up at night.

We are fortunate to have had an illuminating, hot, fun, and surprising three-day Australia Day weekend–a great time for us to be here to continue to learn and experience this amazing part of the world.

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