Australia Day in the Hunter

BARBECUES and backyard swimming pools are among the reasons Hunter residents say they are thankful to be Australian.

Thousands of Hunter residents embraced this year’s Australia Day theme of ‘‘Thank You Australia’’ at activities at the weekend at Newcastle, Lake Macquarie, Raymond Terrace, Nelson Bay, Maitland and Cessnock.

To view a gallery of more than 50 photos, click here.

More than 40,000 people lined Newcastle Foreshore on Saturday for the annual celebrations, which this year included tug boat ballet, appearances by an aquatic mermaid, harbour swim, boat-building display and ski championships.

At the Maritime Centre, celebrations were combined with the National Maritime Festival, where events included a yacht club race, Ducks for Dollars and free port tour.

Revellers were also thankful for the weather, which was a warm but tolerable 27degrees in Newcastle and low 30s further west until rain dampened the mood mid-afternoon.

Maritime festival event manager Erica Townsend said crowds were up on 2012.

In Port Stephens national pride was on display at festivities in both Nelson Bay and Raymond Terrace.

Indigenous dance was combined with a thong-throwing cricket game at Raymond Terrace before a raft race and RAAF flypast rounded out the program.

Further north in Nelson Bay, bush poetry and sheep-shearing demonstrations paid homage to Australia’s folk traditions.

Port Stephens Council communications and marketing co-ordinator Emma Shanks said residents gave thanks at Raymond Terrace by writing why they were thankful to be Australian on a Post-It note and sticking it on a map of Australia.

‘‘Lots of Aussie spirit around today,’’ she said.

More than 200 migrants were thankful to become Australian citizens at ceremonies around the region.

Nicole Smith, of Raworth, and her children donned the national emblem at Newcastle on Saturday to show they were thankful Australians.

‘‘We have such a nice country to live in,’’ she said.

‘‘Barbecues, sunshine and swimming pools in the summer.’’

Iconic Australian film Red Dog helped punctuate the patriotic mood at Speers Point Park.

Lake Macquarie City Council cultural development and events officer Rebecca Prince said the scout canoe race was one of the highlights.

They had about 3000 residents in the park during the day and expected more than 20,000 Saturday night for the concert and fireworks.

Further west, Maitland residents showed their solidarity with their stomachs in both jatz and pie-eating competitions.

Maitland City Council marketing and communications manager Rachael MacLucas said there was a relaxed, family atmosphere.

‘‘The pie-eating competition was quite interesting to watch,’’ she said.

In Muswellbrook and Cessnock events kicked off early with an Oz Day breakfast.

Cessnock mayor Bob Pynsent said they had up to 500 people attend, an increase on 2012.

Their ambassador was James Pittar, a blind man who swam the English Channel and thanked Australia for his life.

Hunter police were pleased with Australia Day revellers, with the wet weather combining with a strong police presence to keep misbehaviour to a minimum.

In Newcastle, police made five arrests and emptied 55 bottles from under-age or intoxicated drinkers.  Past Australia Days in the Hunter have been marred with drunken violence, but not this year.

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