Celebrations are a part of the Australian culture, which might explain why we have so many rich and rare events. Some showcase our gorgeous scenery, others celebrate our sporting passions. Some commemorate our cultural roots, and more than a few demonstrate our self-mocking sense of humour. Dress up for the nation-stopping Melbourne Cup or get your spot on Sydney Harbour for the Australia Day celebrations. Connect with the Aboriginal culture of Arnhem Land at the Garma Festival. Or experience the wacky side of the Australian outback at the Darwin Beer Can Regatta, the Camel Cup and the Henley-on-Todd – a sailing regatta on a dry river bed.
Australia always loves a party, and few are as big and exuberant as Australia Day on January 26. Australians of all ages and backgrounds join the formal and informal celebrations across the country’s beaches, backyards and parks. In Sydney, flag-waving crowds converge around iconic Sydney Harbour for the action-packed program. There’s a traditional Aboriginal ceremony in the Royal Botanic Gardens, a huge barbeque in Hyde Park and all-Australian music acts in The Rocks. Tall ships, small ferries, yachts and surfboards race across the harbour and Air Force planes swoop over Circular Quay. Of course you can’t miss the most electric display of national pride in the evening – the spectacular harbour fireworks.
Sunny, subversive, cosmopolitan and camp – welcome to Sydney during its annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. Whether you’re straight, gay, old or young, you’ll love the gleeful, glamorous energy rippling through the city from late February. Celebrate the festival opening at Fair Day – a huge community party in Sydney’s inner-west. Watch a convoy of sequins, satirical slogans and spray tans wind along Oxford St in the world’s biggest gay pride parade. Dance the midsummer night away in the Royal Botanic Gardens or at the powerhouse finale party. Enjoy queer and quirky performances at the Sydney Opera House and venues across the city.
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Autumn in Canberra is heralded not just by the fiery colours of the deciduous trees, but by the iconic Canberra Balloon Fiesta. Over nine crisp mornings in March, a colourful cavalcade of hot air balloons take to the air from the lawns of Old Parliament House. Watch the magical display with thousands of other early risers or take a hot air balloon ride yourself. Either way, it’s a great way to start your Canberra day, especially when accompanied by a hot breakfast and live entertainment. Afterwards, get out and visit Canberra’s national museums, galleries, wineries and auburn-tinged parks.
Each year in the first light of April 25, Australians gather at dawn services across the country to honour the soldiers who have lost their lives at war. Anzac Day is held on the anniversary of the tragic Gallipoli landing of 1915 and has evolved into a day of homage for all soldiers who have since served at war. The national ceremony, attended by the Prime Minister and Governor General, is held at Australian War Memorial in Canberra. Join the dawn service, experience the emotion of the lone bugle playing the Last Post and pay your respects to the soldiers who serve their countries in conflicts across the world.
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
The annual Lasseters Camel Cup attracts visitors to Alice Springs from all over the world. Held each July, moody camels are ridden around dusty outback tracks, providing great fun for spectators. In one race, riders dressed as grooms race the camels half way round the arena, where they collect their blushing brides for the race to the finish line. In between races, visitors can take part in rickshaw races or compete to be the most fashionable on the field in the Mr and Miss Camel Cup. Belly dancers, food stalls and bars all add to the carnival atmosphere.
Darwin, Northern Territory
Each year, Darwin locals build and race boats made out of beer and soft drink cans at the Darwin Beer Can Regatta. This mock-serious sporting event began as a creative way to clean up litter left by workers rebuilding Darwin after a cyclone in the 1970s. Now, almost 40 years later, the boats are as long as 12 metres and carry fun artillery, including flour bombs and water pistols. Hundreds of locals cheer for events that range from a competitive boat race called Battle of Mindil, and tug-of-war competitions on the beach. Funds raised are donated to charities in Darwin.
Alice Springs, Northern Territory
The Henley-on-Todd is an annual sailing and rowing regatta like no other, held on a dry river bed in Alice Springs. In the 1960s, the town proposed they hold a regatta like the famous Henley-on-Thames, race between Cambridge and Oxford Universities. The idea was taken up by the Rotary Club of Alice Springs. The fact that the town was 1500 kilometres from the nearest large body of water didn’t stop them. Now it’s the longest running event in the Northern Territory, turning the sandy Todd River into a humorous race track for a crazy fleet of hand-made boats each year.
Shinju Matsuri Festival of the Pearl
Broome, Western Australia
August - September
Shinju Matsuri, which translates from Japanese as ‘Festival of the Pearl’ began in 1970 when local community leaders wanted to mark several of the town’s celebrations that occurred close together, including the Japanese Obon, Malaysian Merdeka and the Chinese Hang Seng, at the end of Broome’s pearl harvest. The annual festival has been running for more than 40 years and is held around the August or September full moon to coincide with the natural phenomenon known as the ‘Staircase to the Moon’. Festivities during the 10-day event showcase traditional and contemporary talents celebrating Broome’s unique spirit, culture, history and diversity.