Australia Day – an excuse to get drunk or recover from a hangover while listening to the Hottest 100. But did you know that back in 1788, for approximately 1400 convicts, marines and British naval crew, Australia Day meant getting drunk or recovering from hangovers while listening to the hottest 100 complain about how bloody warm the weather was?
On the 26th of January each year (since about 1818, when Governor Macquarie declared the first official celebration of the anniversary), Australia Day/Invasion Day is celebrated/protested (depending on your point of view) all around the country. For Sydney, the event has a particular significance since it’s smack-bang where the unwashed and unlawful of the First Fleet made landfall all those years ago.
Round numbers make people happy, so when 1988 rolled around, Sydney pulled out all the stops in an attempt to mark the bicentennial occasion with a celebration people would never forget.
Well, maybe not all the stops. A proposed re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet in the works since 1983 (!) was nixed by the Federal Government on the grounds that it would offend Indigenous Australians. Needless to say it was a contentious issue. On one hand, Indigenous Australians could very easily find such a show highly offensive, while on the other the landing meant a great deal to many Australians of European descent. The event organisers believed that ignoring the landing would be akin to ignoring the suffering that subsequently befell the Indigenous people – a much worse scenario. But the money had to come from somewhere…
Throwing caution and their lengthy track record of racial sensitivity to the four winds, Sydney AM radio station 2GB stepped in to hold a fundraising appeal to ensure a go-ahead. Garish sponsorship of each of the ships made up the difference. The Federal Government elected instead to back a rival event, the ‘Tall Ships’, a comparitively generic show much more celebratory of multiculturalism, as it included ships from around the world.
On Australia Day 1988, corporate sponsored facsimiles of nine of the 11 ships of the First Fleet (led by the ‘Australia Post’ Bounty for some reason) along with the world’s brigade of tall ships sailed into Sydney Harbour en masse, right past a banner erected by the Indigenous community reading ‘WE HAVE SURVIVED’. A brief, tentative compromise had been reached…and then Prince Charles turned up, some planes flew over, and everyone got drunk.
Unleashed by the ABC later that same year, this video collects the highlights of the bicentennial birthday bash for anyone who missed it. It’s actually quite difficult to sit there and imagine the intended audience for this tape – did the ABC assume that everyone would be too blotto to remember the events of the day? Was it meant to be treasured with repeated viewings in years to come? Would the owners fire up the VCR in, say, January 1993 to relive the magic? Then again, I’ve just spent hours ripping and uploading it, and you’ve either just viewed or are about to view it (AREN’T YOU), so forget I said anything.
And all that would be perfectly understandable if the video contained anything remotely interesting, but sadly, it doesn’t. It’s 92 minutes of pomp and ceremony punctuated by a fireworks display that wouldn’t look out of place at a school fete these days (oh wait, can schools still have fireworks?). Oh, but still watch it. Don’t not watch it. Besides, all the shops are shut today. What else are you going to do?
Finally, if anyone at the ABC (or Tommy Tycho) wants to come at me over copyright, consider this: I paid a whopping 20c for just one of many copies of this tape at a Vinnies in Forster, so unless you plan to re-release the thing on ultra hi-def 4K blu-ray and charge $90 a pop, leave it up and let everyone enjoy your 80s production values.
ON WITH THE SHOW…
While spending time in Botany yesterday, I walked past the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel on Botany Road, turned down Waratah Road, and found myself staring at…the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel? What?!
This bigger hotel stood in front of a large park, so I’ll fill you in as we explore the park. It turned out that this hotel was the original Sir Joseph Banks Hotel, built in 1844. In 1920, the second Sir Joe was built on Botany Road, and the pub license was transferred to it, leaving the original free to become private units, which is how it is today.
That’s the dull part out of the way. The interesting part of this place is the garden, which has provided Sydney with a few major firsts since 1850. Here, at the garden’s running track, foot racing events were *yawn* held throughout the 1880s during the… professional running boom…I know, I know. We’ll get there.
Also held at this running track was Australia’s first game of representative rugby league, in which the South Sydney Probables clashed with the Possibles. I’m guessing the Likelies played against the Maybes the week after.
Okay, now, the most interesting thing about this park is that it was home to Australia’s first zoo. The site’s owner at the time, a timber merchant named William Beaumont, improved the hotel and created the ‘Pleasure Gardens’, which is a more scandalous and giggle-inducing name today than it would have been back then. The gardens included the private zoo.
It’s hard to imagine tigers and elephants wandering around the grounds these days, so to assist you, the City of Botany Bay has erected a series of life size animal statues. In a way it helps, but in another way it’s kind of creepy. Judge for yourself.
It’s interesting to note just how few of these brand names are widely visible today. Ampol and Esso were both absorbed by their parent companies, proving once again that no one is safe from the Big Oil Killuminati. Maxwell Chemical Corporation, which is just the kind of name you want to see emblazoned on your pleasure garden, has moved offshore. Seagram seems to have disappeared from the corporate environment in New South Wales, at least. Even Pascol Paints has been absorbed by Wattyl, going against all advice you were ever given about mixing paints.
The most striking thing about this place is how secluded it feels. It’s off the main road, but the whole suburb of Botany feels a world away from Sydney as it is. I suppose in that regard, it was the perfect environment for a zoo. The most important feature of the garden today are the series of ponds that form protected wetlands. The whole park sits on land reclaimed from Botany Bay, so some attempt at looking after the marine life there is better than none at all.
Meanwhile, up at the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel Pub Edition, you’d never know any of it was there. Here, they just sit, and drink, and smoke, and bet, and watch the millionth game of rugby league played since the days of probability vs possibility.
I think about it this way: the goings-on of the Sir Joseph Banks Pub on Botany Road are indicative of all that’s probable, but the Victorian wonderland and colourful history of the Sir Joseph Banks Hotel and Pleasure Gardens are all about what’s possible.