Heat by Rob O’Neill

Another day, another holiday

It’s Australia Day over here and the whole place has gone spastic with patriotism. We’re reaching the sharp end of the Aussie Open, Australia is taking on Zimababwe in a one-day match, the ferries are racing each-other on the harbour and everyone has little stick-on Aussie flags on their shoulders or any other exposed flesh, of which there is much to choose from.

Australia Day weekend is a big deal and at the heart of it lies conspicuous displays of relaxation. How you relax is very important. It helps to define who you are; cracking a few beers with your mates at your local, hosting an Open barbecue, dining out on the waterfront. Whatever. In Australia you can spare no effort when it comes to doing nothing.

The day has not been without its upsets, though. The lead story in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning is that Aussie’s free trade deal with the US is on the rocks. If one does get signed, according to a US trade magazine, it will redefine the word “minimum”.

No doubt this sorry state of affairs is US payback for Australia's lack of support during the Iraq war, for John Howard’s continuous “unhelpful comments”, and in ongoing objection to Australia’s ridiculous anti-nuclear policy.

Whoops, that’s why New Zealand didn’t get a free trade deal, isn’t it? Sorry. I got confused there for a minute.

But you don’t go to war to stitch up a free trade deal. Of course not. Australia went to war in response to the imminent threat posed by Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And while Aussie did its duty, Helen Clark ignored the mountain of evidence, buried her head in the sand and New Zealand shirked its international responsibilities.

You kiwis should hang your heads in shame.

Even while the issues are totally unrelated, next time there's a war we should remember to get the US to sign a free trade deal before we decide whether to support them or not.

Anyway, I for one am really looking forward to George Bush's next speech on trade issues. It'll be a scream.

For me the barbecue was yesterday followed by a net session with a couple of mates. Boys in the park, the sound of leather on willow, a bag full of beer, womenfolk pretending to be interested on the sideline. One of these, just off the boat from the UK, commented how every second conversation is about cricket and the rest are about real estate prices.

Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the first fleet, a rag-tag convoy of 11 ships that carried 759 convicts to Botany Bay in 1788. They didn’t like the look of it so they relocated to Port Jackson and founded what would become the City of Sydney. As columnist Ann McGrath points out today, where America commemorates the arrival of the austere puritans, the landing at port Jackson set a certain tone for Australia’s future when Captain Arthur Phillip ordered extra rations of rum and everyone got slaughtered.

Not a bad founding story at all, really. Anyway, I've got patriotic duties to attend to - it's time for a coldie.