SUBCULTURE SLEUTH (IN OZ) | This Australia Day, our sleuth is taking a break from trying to decipher the eclectic subcultures of the UK to take a look at the curiosities and quirks we’ve left behind back in Oz.
As we saw during the Diamond Jubilee last year, the British typically celebrate their national holidays with a high degree of pomp and circumstance. There will be a carriage drawn parade down Whitehall, a flotilla down the Thames heralded by trumpets, bagpipers and immaculately dressed royal soldiers marching in formation.
In Australia we show our national pride by having thong-throwing competitions, racing goldfish and being served drinks by barely-dressed women in shiny bikinis.
I am from the Gold Coast, and the fact that we have a reputation for being tacky is not lost on us locals. Most of the time we try to avoid giving off this impression, however Australia Day gives us a free pass of sorts to embrace all of the unique oddities of our city under the banner of national celebration.
Australia Day, unlike more formal national holidays found in other countries, is primarily a day of revelry: it signals the end of the long, hot Aussie summer and gives us one last opportunity to fire up the barbie and fill the esky with cold beer before properly returning to the world of work and education for the year.
Every Gold Coaster has spent Australia Day on the beach as a kid and, despite recent media reports of booze-fuelled youth riots, it remains a seminal experience of our adolescence. As you get older, you start to move away from spending Australia Day on the beach; you have to surrender to the hordes of tipsy and giggling teenagers that hold court, holding on for dear life to the last gasps of their school holidays.
You would think that heading into a local pub, tavern or surf club would improve the standard of celebration and reduce the level of bizarre alcohol-induced antics. You would be wrong. Gold Coast pubs and clubs know full well what their patrons want on Australia Day: a cold beer, a loose dress code and a bit of a giggle. They reject pretentions of grandeur in favour of… well… bikini waitresses and cheap jugs (of beer, of course).
Recently I was exploring what my options were for Australia Day, as I have been at home on the Gold Coast for Christmas and the New Year. An exploration of what all of the local drinking establishments had on offer revealed some recurring themes: a thong throwing competition, ‘foxy boxing’ and (most excitingly) traditional Gold Coast goldfish race. Goldfish racing is one of those popular eccentricities of Gold Coast culture wherein fish are released into plastic traps and you blow bubbles behind them to make them go faster and race them to the end of the track. What better way to celebrate the discovery of our nation?
We may not have the pomp and circumstance of the British celebrations, and that is because celebrating Australia Day is not simply an expression of nationalist pride. Australians do not ruminate on the life of Captain Cook or doff our caps to the convicts that built our nation with their blood, sweat and tears. Australia Day is a funeral of sorts, mourning the end of summer with one last party on a national scale.
About the author: Paul Bleakley is a journalist and academic raised on Queensland’s Gold Coast. After graduating with a Bachelor of Journalism, he went on to teach high school English and History in his hometown. Paul is a published academic, with a focus on political movements and Australia’s criminal history. Paul enjoys reality television, Pringles and using sarcasm as a comedic crutch.