Current Events, Special Days and Historic Anniversaries Brought to Life by Teddy Bears, Pandas and Other Cuddly Creatures

G’DAY AUSTRALIA!

by Elspeth

Australia has given us so much that’s worth celebrating: beautiful beaches, cosmopolitan cities, didgeridoos, kangaroos, koalas, macadamia nuts, opals, superb sporting achievements, wonderful wine and some might also argue, Neighbours

The biggest day of the year down-under is Australia Day celebrated on 26th January, when millions of Australians turn out to parade, picnic, party and take pleasure in some of the best pyrotechnic displays in the world.  The reason for the celebrations dates back to 1788, when a fleet of 11 ships, led by Captain Arthur Phillips, arrived at Port Jackson, which now forms Sydney Harbour.  On board were hundreds of convicted prisoners from the United Kingdom, most of whom were not true criminals as the only ‘crime’ they had committed was that they were in debt.  These poor souls, banished from their home land, were the first European settlers, although the anniversary of their arrival is not a cause for celebration for everyone. 

Choosing the day when Britain proclaimed sovereignty over Australia as the country’s national day is not without controversy, with many indigenous Australians referring to it as ‘Invasion Day’ as they feel that the festivities exclude them and their culture which was thriving before the arrival of the First Fleet.  Today, Australia is as cosmopolitan as America with people from practically every nation in the world calling the vast country ‘home’.  Appropriately, Australia Day is when new Australian citizens make a public pledge of their commitment to the country at ceremonies around the nation. 

As this special day falls at the height of summer, rather than a formal sit down meal indoors, many Australians celebrate with ‘a barbie and a few tinnies’ on the beach.  No Aussie celebration would be complete without fireworks and displays take place in towns and communities all over the country.  Undoubtedly, the most spectacular is staged in Sydney where a sequence of light, sound and music climaxes with a massive pyrotechnic extravaganza over the Harbour.

Koalas, which appear in many Aboriginal myths and legends, are only found in Australia.  With their round fuzzy ears, incredibly cute faces and big noses, they look like real life teddy bears and, as a result, are often mistakenly referred to as bears.  In actual fact, they’re marsupials – that is, animals which carry their young in pouches. 

Every gum tree contains a koala or so most people assume but, in actual fact, Australia’s emblematic native animal is under threat and, as a result, scientists want it listed as an endangered species.  Already under pressure from habitat loss and disease, koalas now face a new threat: climate change.  As we’ve seen recently, they cope very poorly with the droughts and heatwaves expected to become more common in Australia in years to come and, to make matters even worse, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is reducing the nutrient content of eucalyptus leaves, their sole source of food.  (Unfortunately, like giant pandas, koalas put all their leaves in one basket!)  Koalas don’t drink water, but get fluids from the eucalyptus leaves and, in fact, the word ‘koala’ is believed to mean ‘no drink’ in an Aboriginal language. 

Because their fur provides excellent camouflage against the branches (I certainly know I had great difficultly spotting them even when I knew they were there), koalas are hard to count, but it’s estimated that there are only between 50,000 and 100,000 left in the wild.  Numbers have already declined sharply in some areas (in Queensland, for example, there are 80 per cent fewer koalas than there were 15 years ago) and experts predict that unless more energy conservation measures are taken, the fragile animal could actually be slipping into extinction under our very noses. 

Today, this unique little creature, once only seen as a source of fur, is recognised as a symbol of modern Australia.  And so, each year, several of The Bears in the Windows’ antipodean cousins join a wombat and a couple of kangaroos to celebrate Australia Day.


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