The date to celebrate Australia Day may be up for debate but there’s little chance that anyone at this year’s Australia Day celebration in Tenterfield Memorial Hall would have anything but praise for the Australia Day ambassador program.
This year the program delivered us Susanne Gervay, who left a lasting impression. This accomplished yet unassuming author had ‘em laughing and crying in the aisles – literally – as she regaled stories of incredible hardships endured by her Hungarian parents and older brother as refugees, interspersed with hilarious anecdotes of how they coped.
“I always feel the humour in the darkness,” she said.
“Life is so absurdly ridiculous at times, you’ve just got to laugh.”
(For a long while she’d wished her brother had been left behind, but she’s softened her stance now that they no longer have to live together.)
Her parents’ efforts to integrate into their new community were hampered somewhat by their strong accents. (“On long drives my father was always pointing out the ‘ships in the field’. I couldn’t wait until I was old enough to see the ‘ships’.”) Still they embraced their Australian citizenship as soon as possible, contributing to the diversity that Ms Gervay loves.
(The contrast between her parents’ accents and the Australian drawl was well-illustrated in Ms Gervay’s telling of her experiences being rescued by a ute-load of pig farmers when the car she was travelling in with three other authors got a flat tyre. You had to be there.)
While she always prepares a speech for her Australia Day engagements, Ms Gervay said she’s not one to deliver a long, boring speech and is instead inspired by the response she gets from her audience, and she found the Tenterfield audience very responsive.
She said she totally loved the experience, and highlights for her included the Tenterfield Highlanders Pipe Band, the Lions Club members doing the catering, and meeting the community particulalry ‘the gorgeous minister’ (Hughie McCowen).
She could hardly believe that the Acknowledgement of Country was delivered by Roxanne Bancroft-Stuart, sister of Bronwyn Bancroft whom Ms Gervey greatly admires as an artist and illustrator.
She was surprised by how many people later came up to her to share their own family’s stories of immigration.
“They’re not all sixth generations Australians as you might expect,” she said.
“They felt it’s not a story they would normally share, but I think after what I said they felt validated.”
She loved Emma Gianoli’s performance, especially appreciating how nervous she was returning to the spotlight after a break to raise her children. And the reaction of Emma’s daughters who couldn’t believe their mum was so famous was priceless.
She felt the community’s support of a mother’s return to the workforce was just one more aspect of the diversity demonstrated on the day.
“The whole day was good on so many levels. It’s a very embracing community. I loved it.”
She and her travel companion for the event – fellow author Yvette Poshoglian – made a point of stopping at villages along the way to Tenterfield. She was thrilled to unearth a treasure at a secondhand store in Deepwater in the form of an embroidered magazine cover created by our own Maree Parker, and also made a point of catching the Lamb and Potato Festival in Guyra.
She enjoyed her lamb pie, and also the company she had at the table in the form of a bloke from Far North Queensland who was driving his friend down to St Vincent’s Hospital to be treated for lung cancer.
“That’s what you do for a mate,” was his response when she commented on the huge undertaking.
“My heart sang, just a little,” Ms Gervay said.
Here’s Ms Gervay’s entertaining presentation on Australia Day in case you missed it, or would like to listen again…