When I was a little girl, Australia Day held a special significance for me and my family. It heralded the end of the school holidays – which my parents obviously loved – but it was also a time for reflecting on our family history.
While dad cooked a barbecue, we’d discuss the fact that five generations of my family had lived in the same Victorian town we called home. We marvelled at the stories of how our family toughed it out to cross the sea from Ireland in search of their fortune on the goldfields near Ballarat. Or how, some decades later, my great-great-grandfather worked 12-hour shifts in a goldmine, chest-deep in water, swinging a pick, to put food on the table. Or how his son, my great-grandfather (he was one of eight children and died when I was 13) had a part-time job lighting the gas street lamps that lined the main street because there was no electricity in town when he was young.
My hometown was my family’s part of the world. Our part of Australia.
So it’s no surprise to me how passionately people either love or loathe the celebrations of January 26, because many Australians feel a deep connection to their part of the world, and many more are forging connections as they become citizens.
We asked some of the 2017 Australian of the Year participants to discuss what it means to them to be an Australian citizen and what they do to mark Australia Day.
The 2017 Australian of the Year Awards will be broadcast on Wednesday January 25 at 7.30pm on ABC TV and radio as well as online.
Lois Peeler AM
Pop pioneer with The Sapphires, executive director, Worawa Aboriginal College
(2017 Senior Australian of the Year, Victoria)
I am a proud Australian and incredibly proud that I am an Aboriginal Australian.
As an educator, I have a strong desire to create appreciation in the broader community that Aboriginal culture is the world’s oldest continuing culture, reaching reaches back more than 70,000 years – that it is the heritage of not only Aboriginal Australians, but of all Australians.
For me, Australia Day is usually a quiet day of reflection. I reflect on the history in the building of our nation – the struggle and achievements along the way.
I hope for a future of our nation where we embrace the antiquity of the land, culture and history of Australia’s First Peoples and celebrate the diversity of our beliefs and faiths, our choices, our memories, our land, no matter what our origins.
I generally watch the Australian Open and, in the evening, watch the fireworks.
Paris Aristotle AM
CEO Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture
(2017 Australian of the Year, Victoria)
Australia is my home, where my roots are embedded, and I am privileged as a consequence. In my work at the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (foundationhouse.org.au), I meet refugees each day and am constantly inspired by the courage they bring to a new and different life in Australia.
Australia is a nation enriched by the many different cultures that coexist within it and strengthened by the resourcefulness that such diversity brings.
In embracing our diversity, we have been able to shape our place in the world as an honourable global citizen and model a successful and socially cohesive society.
For me, the Australia Day period provides a chance to do something relaxing with friends and family before the working year swings into full gear. If I can, I often try to spend the day surfing with friends somewhere along the beautiful Great Ocean Road.
Speaker, writer, educator and LGBTI advocate
(2017 Young Australian of the Year, Victoria)
To me, being Australian is about embracing difference. As one of the most multicultural nations in the world, we can be proud of our diversity and the richness it offers. As Australians, we come from all cultures, beliefs and backgrounds and we stand on ancient land, nurtured by the world’s oldest civilisation.
I feel passionately that we should strive to live together in harmony because, at the end of the day, we are all human and we all crave the same things; we want to feel safe, we want to belong, and we want to be respected for who we are.
Being Australian means not just paying lip service to the notions of “mateship” or the “fair go” but staying true to them through our deeds.
My only Australia Day tradition is tuning into triple j’s Hottest 100, either at a friend’s house for a barbecue or in a nearby park for a picnic.
Susan Alberti AC
Advocate for the Women’s AFL, philanthropist and businesswoman
(Panellist at the 2017 Official Australia Day Luncheon: australiaday.vic.gov.au)
Every year I reflect on how lucky we are to live in this great country in the countdown to Australia Day. Australia is a land of opportunity, of egalitarianism and a “fair go”.
We look after one another and those who are more fortunate do their bit to help out those in need. In Melbourne, nothing unites us more than the great game of Aussie rules, where the diverse mix that makes up our population can spend 100 minutes screaming, shouting and yelling at the players and each other, then shake hands and walk away, without a drop of blood spilt.
My Australia Day tradition is simple but important. Being an Australia Day ambassador each year, I travel with my husband Colin to a distant part of the state to celebrate our national day with the local community. It is a great way to see the sights.
Retired Hawthorn Football Club premiership player, 1986 Brownlow medallist
(2017 Ambassador for Australia Day, Victoria)
I just love Australia Day and, as an ambassador, I love seeing new migrants to this country stand up and pledge their willingness to become part of our society.
As I stand there with emotion, it just reminds me of my parents, who arrived here in the ’50s after they left their homeland to have a better future, which Australia gave them.
I just love the fact that wherever Aussies are around the world, they just let people know who we are.
Actress, singer and TV host
(Headliner, RACV Australia Day Festival, Kings Domain, 11am-4pm, January 26)
To me, being Australian is about celebrating our differences but finding commonalities that connect us all. Whether it’s enjoying food, good music or being engrossed in conversation, we have so much to share with each other.
Being a true blue Aussie means relishing in our diversity and revelling in the uniqueness of our multicultural community.
I don’t have an Australia Day tradition as such … but for the past few years I have started the new year performing on this day.