Australia Day a 'Rush' for Toowoomba's art lovers

Geoffrey Rush has been awarded a Companion in the Order of Australia.
Geoffrey Rush has been awarded a Companion in the Order of Australia.

SWANNELL: Congratulations to the Empire Theatre's Patron, Geoffrey Rush, on becoming a Companion in the Order of Australia. He is a magnificent supporter of our theatre.

Locally, I had the privilege of being the MC for Toowoomba's Picnic Point Australia Day Celebrations. It was lovely weather and congratulations to Sheriden Wright, Toowoomba's Citizen of the Year.

My family are Australians by choice. There are many reasons why individuals choose to live in this magnificent country and many reasons for becoming Australian citizens.

About 27% of the Australian population was not born here. Nobody forced us to come, although of course it wasn't always like that!


We arrived in 1971, towards the end of the time of the ten pound Poms, although I wasn't one myself. They were people, mainly but not exclusively, from the UK who paid £10 for their fare and had to pay back the fare in full if they returned to Britain within two years.

About 25% of them did just that. Of those, about 50% found that the grass wasn't greener on the other side and came back. Wikipedia,

Ten_Pound_Poms has the story.

Australia Day inevitably brings all these things about immigration and country of choice into focus. I think of three Australia Days in particular.

Australia Day 1974 was pretty wet! In a 36 hour period, beginning early on January 25, 642 mm of rain fell on Brisbane. We lived in the suburb of Jindalee, not so far from the Brisbane River. By the end of Sunday, January 27 there was 2.7m of water and a lot of the neighbours' furniture in our house.

It wasn't as bad as it sounds because it was a high-set home and most of the upstairs area stayed dry-ish. It wasn't nice though, especially when a barge was caught by rising water under the Centenary Highway Bridge and had to be blown up.

It was an interesting experience which I hoped would not become a feature of future Australia Days.

I think of Australia Day 1985 for a much better reason. We became Australian citizens on that day. We had permanent residency visas since our arrival. As Poms, in those days there were very few things that Australian citizens could do that were not available to permanent residents. We could vote, but we couldn't be Members of Parliament; what a shame! In 1985 we did the right thing, but I've never been tempted by the Parliament bit.

I think of Australia Day 2005 for another rather special reason. On that day I became a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia, AM. I felt very lucky, and very honoured, and I still do. You don't expect such things to happen.

Back in September 1971, en route by train from Sydney to Brisbane after a long flight from London, wondering what the hell we had got ourselves into, such things were not part of our thinking! Brisbane was not quite the same as it is today; we were very innocent Poms in a very big country.

There's another thing about January 26, Australia Day.

It's my twin brother's birthday. It is fun to remind him of the significance of his birthday when I'm getting up his nose about the cricket.

Despite being his twin, Australia Day is not my birthday. The world, and our Mum, had to wait another 19 hours before I popped out. My brother likes to remind me he lived quite happily without me for the better part of a whole day.

I always cried on his birthday if I didn't get a present. He did the same on mine. So we both benefited from my Mum's reluctance to deliver on schedule, but I missed out on an early Australia Day.

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