Today is Australia Day, a national holiday here in the Land Down Under.
Aussies disagree about when it should be celebrated, why it should be celebrated, what it signifies, and who should celebrate it. But they all agree that the celebration should feature lots of alcohol, plentiful sausages, and countless jokes about New Zealand’s clear national inferiority.
England’s Captain James Cook gets credit for making the first recorded European discovery of Australia, planting the English flag back on August 22, 1770. The English then filed the discovery under “Too Far Away” and forgot about it until 1776 when those pesky American colonies declared their independence, depriving the Brits of a convenient spot to dump their convicts.
In 1785, French King Louis XVI read accounts of Captain Cook’s voyages, exclaimed, “Holy merde!” and, in a move that can only be described as better late than never, ordered the Comte de La Pérouse to get his derrière down under ASAP to claim some of that sweet, sweet Southern Hemisphere real estate for France.
Undoubtedly feeling pretty damn proud of himself, La Perouse sailed into Botany Bay on January 26, 1788. Unfortunately, in one of the greatest twists of fate in history, he discovered that the British First Fleet had arrived in the very same spot just two days earlier.
Two days. Imagine how different history might have been had La Perouse not dawdled along the way. Aussies would now speak French instead of English. Instead of playing cricket, the national pastime would have become surrendering to Germany. And there would be one more place where Jerry Lewis is considered a genius.
After leading his crew in chanting nanny-nanny-nanny at the tardy Frenchies, British Commander Arthur Phillip cordially invited them to stay long enough to replenish their supplies and repair their ships, but then reminded them of the old adage that houseguests and fish all begin to smell after three days. I would imagine that adage was particularly true on 18th century ships of discovery.
After imposing on their British hosts’ generous natures for six weeks, La Pérouse finally set sail for New Caledonia. His run of bad luck continued because after hoisting anchor and waving au revoir to the English fleet, La Perouse and his ships sailed out of Botany Bay and were never seen again. No one knows what became of them.
So Australia Day is now an event celebrated annually in the Land Down Under. It’s celebrated on January 26, the day that the First Fleet arrived with the first batch of English convicts. But some people think it should be celebrated on August 22, the date Captain Cook laid claim to the continent. Others insist it should be on January 1, the date the six Australian colonies joined together to form the nation. And some dissenters think it shouldn’t be celebrated at all because the arrival of the Europeans doomed the continent’s original inhabitants.
If I had a vote (which the Australian government has irrationally not seen fit to bestow upon me) I’d go for January 1. But that date is already a national holiday and there’s no way any real Aussies would vote for overlapping holidays that eliminate a perfectly good reason to throw a party.