New and old citizens celebrate Australia Day

Some 13,700 people celebrated their first Australia Day as citizens around the country amid barbecues, concerts, indigenous ceremonies – and giant inflatable yellow thongs.

The floating thongs were boarded by more than 500 people at Adelaide’s Glenelg beach in an attempt to break a world record.

Children, teenagers, grandmas and parents jumped into the water for the Havaiana Australia Day Thong Challenge to raise money for local surf life clubs.

The day in Canberra began with Australia Day Council chairman Adam Gilchrist, Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Prime Minister Julia Gillard conducting a national flag-raising ceremony.

New Australian of the Year Geoffrey Rush watched on along with 27 new citizens.

Mr Gilchrist told the new citizens that Australians enjoyed a quality of life “second to none”.

“We know how to work hard. We know how to have a good time and we are not bad at sport,” the former test cricketer said.

The rest of Ms Gillard’s day was not so genteel, as she found herself trapped with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott in a restaurant while protesters from the nearby Aboriginal tent embassy banged on the glass walls.

She put on a brave face as she hosted ambassadors at the Lodge on Thursday night.

Ms Gillard said she was fine following the incident in which 200 Aboriginal protesters converged on the emergency services awards function she had been attending with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

“The only thing that angers me is that it distracted from such a wonderful event with great people from emergency services,” she told AAP on Thursday night.

She refused to comment on whether Mr Abbott should apologise for offending the activists.

The protesters blamed their actions on Mr Abbott’s comments earlier on Thursday that it was time to “move on” from the tent embassy.

In Tasmania, around 200 protesters attended an `Invasion Day’ rally at Hobart’s Parliament Square on Thursday, calling for the Australia Day date to be changed.

Tasmanian Aboriginal leader Michael Mansell said he was hopeful 2012 will be the last year Australia Day is celebrated on January 26.

Many indigenous Australians say they have little to celebrate on the date European settlers arrived and Mr Mansell, who is the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s legal director, says much of the broader population agrees.

Also in Hobart, one of Australia’s newest citizens, Violent Femmes bassist Brian Ritchie, urged Australians not to succumb to the nationalism that pervades his country of birth, the United States.

“When I came here first 25 years ago Australia was not nearly as diverse, nor were the people as tolerant and great strides have been made in that time,” he said at the city’s Australia Day ceremony.

“I hope we continue that way and we don’t adopt some of the more ugly nationalistic viewpoints.”

In Sydney, festivities kicked off with a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony at the Royal Botanic Gardens, overlooking Farm Cove.

Later, the city’s famous ferries lined up to fight it out in their annual race on the harbour while there were more inflatable thongs with more than 1300 people in the water at Bondi.

The centre of Melbourne was a colourful display of Australia’s awesome diversity with a fun parade of community and cultural groups.

Perth had a scorcher of a day, with the mercury peaking at almost 42C.

But the weather was unlikely to stop thousands from gathering on the Swan River foreshore for the annual Australia Day Skyworks fireworks display.

All major events were scrapped in Queensland with many areas still sodden after 400mm of rain over the past few days, and some recording 300mm in 24 hours.

But damper was still washed down with tea, honours were handed out, and citizenship ceremonies conducted around the state.

Many outdoor events were also cancelled in the Northern Territory due to wild weather with predicted wind gusts equivalent to a category 1 cyclone, but it didn’t stop 47 new Australian citizens being sworn in in Darwin.


Sydney Morning Herald

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