CELEBRATING January 26.
January 26 is a very important day in our home.
Every year, we stuff the ruggies into the Esky, toss a tinnie on the barbie, and invite the prawns around to our backyard girt by fence, to drink and sing and celebrate one of the most important dates on the calendar: I am speaking, of course, of Duarte Day, named after Juan Pablo Duarte Diez, one of the founding fathers of the Dominican Republic.
Without Duarte, the Dominican Republic would probably still be a part of Haiti. Nobody is quite sure why his birthday is commemorated with such enthusiasm in Australia, as surveys have repeatedly shown that only one in 23,347,839 Australians can find the Dominican Republic on a map, and the population of Australia stands at 23,347,838.
One theory holds that we are not actually celebrating Duarte Day but Ugandan Liberation Day. This marks the supposed liberation of Uganda from a string of dictators including Idi Amin, who really did throw his neighbours on to the barbie and thence into the Esky.
January 26 is also Republic Day in India. Most Australians are very pleased that India is a republic, instead of whatever it was before it was a republic (probably just a cricket team), and so like to get drunk and eat sausages.
In the heady era of the Communist Bloc, we would also use the day to show solidarity with the people of Romania, who were pretty much forced to be happy on January 26 as it was the birthday of their long-time president Nicolae Ceausescu, variously described as a “secular god”, a “miracle” and a “celestial body” – although he was, in fact, an a…hole.
January 26 ceased to be a jamboree in Romania in 1989 when Ceausescu and his wife were executed on December 25, which is also considered an important date by some Australians since it marks Constitution Day in Taiwan.
These are just some of the theories as to why January 26 is so special to dinky-di Australians.
But, as we camp around the swagman under the shade of our billabong, in my family we also like to remember it’s the feast day of St Polycarp of Smyrna, the brilliantly named second century bishop who tragically met his end on something a bit like a barbie in AD155. In addition, it’s the birthday of Paul Newman, the US actor who invented pasta sauce; Andrew Ridgeley, the ugly one out of Wham!; and Brahim Takioullah, the Moroccan man with the biggest feet in the world.
As we stand under the stubby-holder with our Hill’s Hoists in our hands, we drink a toast to each of these fine men, whose varied achievements have all contributed to the richness of Australian life – albeit in ways which may not immediately be obvious.
With all this in mind, I find it quite strange – and more than a little offensive – when so-called “intellectuals” suggest Australians don’t really know what they’re celebrating on January 26.
There can’t be a day on the calendar that has given more to the world. In Taiwan, a beached whale even exploded on the back of a truck on January 26, 2004.
But lately I’ve been hearing disturbing rumours – and they could well be just furphies, mind you – that some people believe January 26 commemorates the day when a bunch of unfortunate wretches, including many with criminal records arrived from a land far away in boats and without so much as by-your-leave from the people already living here, and commenced to try and build new and better lives in an under-populated country at the ends of the earth.
They were poor and desperate, they braved treacherous seas to reach safety, and they brought their own language and culture with them.
When I hear of this kind of thing, it makes me really mad. I don’t think newspapers should even be allowed to report it, for reasons of “operational security”. It’s irresponsible, it’s illegal, and, worst of all, it’s unAustralian.
MARK DAPIN | ADELAIDE ADVERTISER, 24 JANUARY 2014