Go Fourth and party

Gonzo Meets the Press #14 July 7, 2011

Tom Krause, a dual citizen, celebrated with several hundred people at a
reception hosted by the US Consul General, complete with beer, hot dogs and
apple pie.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all
men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of
Happiness.”
That, of course, is one of the most famous sentences in history,
taken from the Declaration of Independence adopted by delegates of the 13
original colonies in the hot and humid city of Philadelphia on July 4,
1776.
Two hundred and thirty-five years later, several hundred people –
ranging from American consular staff to US sailors and air force personnel
(pictured), to Australian politicians and businessmen and women, journalists,
and last but not least, Kamahl – gathered at Le Montage, a venue normally used
for wedding receptions in the Sydney suburb of Lilyfield, to pursue happiness
and celebrate that declaration on a cool and dry Fourth of July, 2011.
The celebrations started with the national anthems of America and Australia sung
beautifully by soprano Christina Klingen, born in Spokane, Washington, and now
living in Sydney, with a pitch that could shatter windows, but in this case, let
freedom ring. You could almost imagine the bombs bursting in air over Iron Cove
Bay. Also entertaining the guests was Australian guitarist, Nick Charles,
playing the blues and folk tunes suitable for a fun-filled Fourth from a bloke
who averages 150 shows a year on both sides of the Tasman and the US.
Then the main event, the US Consul General, Niels Marquardt, who spoke eloquently
about self-evident truths which underpin the Fourth of July – “the reality of
Americans’ deep reverence for our history, for our constitution, for our
founding fathers, and for their remarkable courage and wisdom in breaking free
and crafting the democratic system that has guided our nation to this day.”
Australians don’t yet have a deep reverence for their history, but it has
been building since the bicentennial on January 26, 1988 which was one of the
happiest days in living memory, except for many indigenous Australians, who want
it to be remembered as Invasion Day.
Niels Marquardt made a reference to Australian history by paying his respects to the traditional custodians of the
land of Lilyfield, “the Gadigal People of the Eora Nation, and to their elders,
past and present,” adding a gracious tribute to the Gadigal People: “Their tens
of thousands of years on this land do put in some useful perspective the modest
anniversary we celebrate here today …” It was good to hear an American consular
official showing humility about his country, and praising the traditional owners
of the land — indigenous Australians.
After the posting of the colors by the US Air Force Colorguard, the anthems and the speeches, there was time to
have a beer and eat mini-hot dogs with mustard and mini-hamburgers with tomato
sauce (in America, it’s never the other way around), pretzels, and, of course,
that most American of deserts — apple pie — and mingle with the troops.
I had a chat with an officer from the USS McCampbell, one of the two American
destroyers which had sailed into Sydney Harbour that morning, along with a
Canadian ship, the HMCS Ottawa, all here to take part in a military exercise in
Australia later this month. He told me the US was going through a rough time,
and it was nicer in Japan where his destroyer is based: “I don’t like what’s
going on back there now in politics.” Ironically, the USS McCampbell is named
after Captain David McCampell, who shot down nine Japanese planes during a
mission in October 1944, an aerial combat record. The sailor told me the
Japanese think it’s hilarious that a ship named after a Medal of Honor winner
feted for killing Japanese pilots is based in their country. The just-arrived
naval officer has all the makings of a good Australian: he’s honest, loves beer
and was looking forward to a meat pie at Harry’s Café de Wheels near where his
ship is docked.
I also ran into an old mate, Sydney Daily Telegraph columnist, Piers Akerman, who was having a chat with Kamahl. The famous singer
arrived in Australia from Malaysia in 1953 as a Tamil Hindu schoolboy after an
unhappy childhood under Japanese occupation, and is now a great friend of the
United States. Kamahl was off to Canberra to stay with the US ambassador and
attend the embassy’s celebration of the Fourth of July in our nation’s capital
on Tuesday. As you can tell from the photo posted on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/meetthepressau),
Piers and Kamahl could easily play the major roles in an Australian version of
The Odd Couple. And I can hear Kamahl saying: “Why are people so
unkind?” (And yes, Piers, to be fair, if you had taken a picture of me and
Kamahl, it would have been The Oddest Couple!)
A bit later I was chatting to Piers, when he asked: “Who’s that bloke behind you … the one who
looks like a Mafia Don?” I discreetly turned around and said: “I think he’s a
NSW politician.” Then I realised as he was leaving that it was actually Roy
Billing, the actor who played the organised crime boss, Robert Trimbole, in the
Underbelly series! Given the previous NSW Labor government, it was an
honest mistake (only joking, of course!).
The Consul General mentioned in his speech how Americans celebrate Independence Day: “We will throw around
baseballs and Frisbees, run three-legged races, barbecue hamburgers and hot dogs
like the ones we are about to enjoy, watch fireworks, and enjoy in simple ways
the many freedoms that make us the people and the country we are.”
In Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, where I grew up, we used to have block
parties where all the above happened, and all the neighbours knew each other so
the kids could never really get into trouble. You might sneak a sip of Schmidt’s
beer when your father wasn’t looking, but if he caught you, it meant a hard
smack on the bum. And I never remember a fight breaking out in spite of a lot of
beer being consumed by the elders. Like that Bicentennial Day in 1988, drunken
violence never stood a chance against all that happiness and good will.
I reckon every suburb around the country should have block parties on Australia
Day where the neighbours can get to know each other and perhaps retain that
friendliness throughout the year. It could be our Fourth of July when we
celebrate our national day with family and friends and neighbours and the birth
of Australia as we know it today (and eventually the declaration of our
republic!).
And who knows, it could have prevented the terrible, lonely death
of an elderly woman, who passed away in her inner Sydney home eight years before
anyone noticed this week. Surely a neighbour would have asked her to come to the
block party, and discovered she was in ill health, or if she had died, would
have found her body before it turned into a skeleton. There was a good letter in
today’s Sydney Daily Telegraph from Andrew Heslop, the Founder of
Neighbour Day (an annual kind of block party on the last Sunday in March),
asking Australians to keep an eye out for elderly neighbours.
On a happier note, I end this blog with a declaration of my own: There will be no carbon tax
under the block party I lead (unless the legislation has finally passed. Stay
tuned to Meet the Press to find out if that ever happens!).

Tom Krause is the supervising producer of Ten’s Meet the Press. His views
are his own; they always have been.

PS And it would be remiss of me not to say farewell to a friend and neighbour
Alexei Kral, Public Affairs Officer at the US Consulate General, who is leaving
tomorrow for the US, and then in a month or so heading to South Korea, where he
will take up a position in the embassy there. He and his family will be
missed.

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