Nothing says “Australia Day parade” like people dressed as Storm Troopers milling about on Swanston Street in Melbourne. Not the old German ones. The Star Wars ones. One of them holds an official placard that reads: “Rebel Legion”. That’s what they call themselves and they have a spot in the parade, which will begin at 11am. Nearby, the Doctor Who Club of Victoria is gathered. They too will be marching.
Other groups central to binding the nation’s social fabric are also preparing to march in our nation’s premier celebration: the Laughter Club, the Vintage Cycle Club of Victoria, the Costume Group. The official Australia Day parade organisers should be commended for honouring these oft-ignored patriots.
At Town Hall, a few dozen military personnel are mustering to Army Band pomp. I expect to find fascist and far right patriots here, but it turns out they are lazing about at Federation Square. It seems unAustralian and a mark of deep disrespect to our Anzacs that they can’t be bothered getting down to Collins Street to cheer on the diggers.
The march begins with much pageantry if not huge crowds. By the time it reaches the Yarra River, on its way to Kings Domain, there’s pretty much no one lining the footpath. It’s very disappointing. Perhaps those uninitiated are unaware of the power of our national day parade – its ability to draw from the deep wells of emotion in participants to elicit love of country among spectators.
As the Costume Group walks past I’m almost compelled to remove my cap as a sign of respect. Men dressed up as Spiderman and Thor, the hammer-wielding thunder god of Germanic mythology, wave at a group of Chinese tourists. The tourists wave back. It’s a touching moment, unique to Australia and our national day, and a testament to mateship. In a fleeting interaction, cultural divisions are bridged. Perhaps this is the key to easing the inter-imperialist tensions between China and the West: get them all to Australia Day. If anyone can lower the temperature and prevent a global conflagration annihilating millions, Aussie Thor can.
He should have been made Australian of the Year.
The Star Wars people seem to be having a ball now the parade is moving. There are grown men dressed as Jedi Knights, wielding toy lightsabers, jousting. A feeling of intense national pride now washes over me. Where else but Australia Day could these true Aussie battlers get their moment in the sun? Like Thor, they would be unsung heroes but for this day.
And it is clear for all to see: prime minister Scott Morrison is spot on calling for a dress code at citizenship events held on this most sacred of days. Anyone in thongs should be out on their arse. More, they ought to be deported for sullying our proud nation’s character. Nothing short of a full Batman suit should do for those pledging allegiance to our country and its head of state, the Queen of England.
The vintage cyclists now pass, decked-out in period drama outfits and riding penny-farthings – the most Australian bicycle ever ridden and easily the most loved. Even the least patriotic among us cannot help but hum “we are one, but we are many”. But again, my mind wanders: why are there so few people here to bear witness to a celebration of our national greatness? We must do more to get the word out about the inspirational power of a Miss Marple look-alike on a bike pedalling through this great city.
There are Australian flags everywhere. Lucky, too. Without the constant reminder of place, mass panic might result as scores of onlookers believe themselves to have been secretly transported to Dantooine, Victorian-era Britain or Gotham City with no chance of getting back for work on Tuesday. The organisers, with great foresight, have done well to avoid a stampede.
The biggest flags, though, are carried by the far right people. It is unclear why they need big ones. Perhaps they are the most prone to forgetting where they are. Perhaps, because political correctness has gone mad and they can’t walk around with their dicks out, they believe a flag to be a stand-in cultural signifier of said knobs.
Alas, the parade is over quickly. But the organisers had little choice due to the small crowd. A handful of the far right move to the corner of Bourke Street to stir people in the Invasion Day rally, which is now on its way – and it is much bigger than the official parade.
The leader of the patriots, a man wearing a Saint George’s Cross smock, is carrying on to the one man who has shown any interest in him. A woman companion holds a placard reading: “To defend my country was once called patriotism. Now it’s called racism”. “Fuckwit” and “Nazi” are more common epithets uttered by passers-by. These insults are borne of ignorance, however. Saint George has already explained to the police that he is “Scottish royalty”.
A bunch of people from the rally spot Saint George and are chanting “always was, always will be, Aboriginal land”. He earlier remonstrated with police saying he wasn’t here for anything in particular. But in the commotion the monarch becomes particularly undignified. “I love retards, you look stupid”, he yells, still wearing the smock and carrying a large (really nice and large) Australian Red Ensign. “Fuck off and go home socialist Nazis … Uneducated stupid mole. Islam wants you in their harem.” This spray does shut everyone up, but only because they seem utterly confused about what Saint George is on about on this magnificent day of unity.
The passing rally, on and on it streams, is slowly demoralising Saint George’s crew, which is down to three – a few left earlier, perhaps when the size of the Invasion Day protest became clear. They fall silent and look sullen. It’s very low energy. Jeb Bush would be the vision of the Energiser Bunny in comparison if you want to know the truth.
The Invasion Day marshals very effectively make sure there is no trouble. Yet the cops muster 13 officers to move on Saint George and his pals for disturbing the peace. It is unnecessary, given how low the energy is, but cops have to push someone around. The Invasion Day crowd is too big to intimidate, so the police tread the path of least resistance.
But Saint George talks endlessly about crime to wear the cops out. And sign woman tells them she is too scared to leave because the protesters are thugs and they will follow her and assault her. She just came here for Australia Day and all things nice and now her life is in jeopardy. The cops give in. They are lower energy even than this small rabble.
Once the rally has passed and the cops are gone, the damsel in distress takes her sign and marches away with another friend. We call him Flag Man because he’s got a flag cape and a flag hat and two small flags stuck to his flag hat all to demonstrate his love of country. But everyone can see that he’s no Thor, no Storm Trooper, no Miss Marple, no middle-aged man dressed as a Jedi – he is in fact an impostor on this wonderful day of national celebration.
Sign woman and Flag Man proceed straight to the rally’s end point at Flinders Street. After having her path blocked by marshals, sign woman sits briefly on the road with her sign until the police tell her to bugger off. She promptly leaves. A sad ending to a magnificent day.
Australia Day is over for another year. But we will cherish the memories for a lifetime.