President Barack Obama wishes Down Under a Happy Australia Day


Beachgoers pose as Australia celebrates Australia Day at Cottesloe Beach on January 26, 2011 in Perth, Australia. Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet to Sydney in 1788.


Paul Kane

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has wished Australians a "happy" national day celebration.

"On behalf of President [Barack] Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to congratulate the Australian people as you celebrate Australia Day this January 26," Clinton reportedly said.

Now that's diplomacy.

Australia Day is akin to America's Independence Day.

Australians gather in their homes, backyards and — for those who work in essential services, or sometimes just for a party-pooping boss — their offices to reflect on the true meaning of Australian-ness.

More often than not that amounts to firing up the barbecue, drinking large quantities of beer and watching Test match cricket, or else spending the entire day on the nearest beach.

Yes, there are few things Australians hold more sacred that their Australian-ness... and their public holidays.

To know that a US Secretary of State — who between financial crises, nuclear standoffs and breakouts of democracy must be very busy indeed — takes the time to send a message on behalf of the US President to little old us is a special feeling indeed.

But that's not all, not by a long shot.

The President himself has reportedly written to Australian Governor-General Quentin Bryce ahead of  January 26:

"As I noted when I visited Australia in November, the US-Australia alliance has served as an anchor of stability, security, and prosperity in the world for six decades," Obama wrote, according to the Australian Associated Press.

"As you celebrate your national day, know that the United States stands with you in friendship now and in the future. I wish all Australians a safe and happy holiday celebration and continued peace and prosperity in the coming year."

Granted, it's been a warm and fuzzy few months for US-Australia relations.

The White House announced a wholesale redirection of American foreign policy — and military resources — toward Asia.

Key to its strategy will be Forward Operating Base Darwin, Australia (our term, not theirs... yet), where US Marines, their war machines and military supplies will share digs with Australian forces.

(GlobalPost reports: G'day Mr. President — Barack Obama lands in Australia)

Their brief, Obama said back in November, would be to allow the US to "meet the demands of a lot of partners in the region" in terms of training, exercises and "security architecture."

Unofficially, analysts agreed, the build-up is a counterbalance to the rising influence of China in the region.

Regardless, Australia has evidently found its way into Washington's birthday book and — depending how long the friendship lasts — can expect regular salutations for a while to come.

On reflection, the comparison with July 4 — named for the date in 1776 when the US Congress officially adopted the Declaration of Independence — may be stretching things a little.

January 26 marked a very different kind of occasion Down Under.

On that day in 1788, the First Fleet of 11 convict ships arrived from Great Britain and a Union Jack was raised at Sydney Cove by the fleet's commander Captain Arthur Phillip, establishing the first European colony on the continent.

According to records, on board were 759 convicts, their Marine guards, some with families, a few civil officers and enough supplies to tide them over until they became self-sufficient.

Never mind that Australia was already well-established in the minds of its inhabitants, the Aborigines. Back then a nation wasn't settled until the Europeans arrived.

When you think about it, perhaps Thanksgiving would be a closer comparison, minus the shared harvest feast...

But hey, either way the ties between Australia and America are, in the words of Hillary Clinton, "as close as any."

Australia — like the US — is a county of immigrants which owed everything to its ability to integrate people of many cultures, creeds and skill sets.

As Australian neurosurgeon Charlie Teo, who after 10 hugely successful years in the US returned to Australia "for lifestyle reasons and for our children’s heritage," puts it in 2012 Australia Day address:

My time in the USA made me reflect on how a country that was not that much older or bigger than ours had achieved such a standing on the world stage.

In general, Americans were not more intelligent, diligent or talented than Australians. They have natural resources, so do we. Their pioneers did it tough, so did ours. They had a national pride, so do we.

The message is all of this is simple: this Australia Day, Aussies can take a day off work, fire up the barbee and put the beer on ice knowing that America really cares.

And who knows, if we're still together in a few years Australians may just star celebrating July 4 , too.