Australia Day celebrations

Starring role for Geoffrey RushIdealised picture of an outdoor nationGamble at the birth of a nationBell gets gong for leading the wayPonting recognised after shaky startA Masters at workCompanion piece for Bonynge completes rare doubleSavvy small businesses cash in on Australia DayLATEST WEATHER IN SYDNEY

11.58am: Prime Minister Julia Gillard personally welcomed 27 of Australia’s newest citizens at a ceremony in Canberra, praising their brave decision to make a life here and urging them to dream big, AAP reports.

She told the crowd Australia had come a long way since the very first one in 1949 - held just down the road at Albert Hall - but that the meaning of citizenship still held true.

"It is modern Australia’s greatest story," she said.

"It is of inclusion and belonging."

About 4 million people have been made citizens since 1949, with 13,700 from 144 countries being welcomed on this Australia Day.

"Those 4 million of us left behind the life we knew - loved ones, familiar places, language culture," the Welsh-born Ms Gillard said.

"A brave and often painful decision but a good decision, because for whatever we left behind we gain so much more."

Looking forward ... Julia Gillard. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

11.50am Also recognised at the ceremony where recipients of the Randwick City Council community service awards. Taking home the Young Citizen of the Year Award was Tamara Murray for her contributions to the Maroubra Life Saving Club.

The young achiever is in her third year of nursing studies at the University of Notre Dame and hopes to become a mental health or paediatric nurse.

For her, Australia Day is about "coming together, celebrating and having a good time together under one sun".

Tamara Murray ... recognised for her contributions to the Maroubra Surf Lifesaving Club. Photo: Glenda Kwek

11.35am: Lizwe Malapela had to give up his Zimbabwean citizenship to become Australian. He said it was "a bit heart-breaking" to take that step, but that it was in his best interest.

At the ceremony, the new citizens were told to read Dr Charlie Teo's Australia Day speech by one of the speakers and Mr Malapela said he agreed with the neurosurgeon's comments about racism and rage.

"It's true racism is still there to some extent - like any other country," said Mr Malapela, who worked with Dr Teo at a hospital in the past.

"Immigrants should also integrate into society and embrace Australian culture. It makes it an easier transition."

11.30am: Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says Australia Day is a day for people to count their blessings, AAP reports.

Speaking in Sydney’s Botanic Gardens, Mr Abbott said that, while Australia was "not perfect", it was still the "greatest country on earth".

"Australians strive to make a great country even better," he said.

"This is a day to count our blessings. It is a day to reflect on what has made us a great nation.

"And yes it is a day to resolve to be even better in the weeks and months and years ahead."

Australia ... greatest country on earth. Photo: James Brickwood

11am: Governor-General Quentin Bryce has reflected on what Australia Day means to her, AAP reports.

"A strength and a determination, that toughness, that grit that I see in Australians that I admire so much," she told Sky News.

Ms Bryce wanted to use Australia Day to draw particular attention to farmers and the role rural Australia played in people's lives.

"Australians should learn more about farmers, what they do, how much we depend on them," she said.

"I think it’s a great year to be recognising what farmers give to us."

10.30am: A total of 30 people became Australian at a citizenship ceremony at the Prince Henry Centre in Little Bay, which was attended by Peter Garrett, the federal Minister for School Education, Early Childhood and Youth.

The location of the ceremony is nothing short of spectacular. Behind the centre, waves crash against brown, ragged cliffs as golfers go about their morning rounds at Saint Michaels Golf Club.

Citizenship ceremony ... Prince Henry Centre in Little Bay. Photo: Glenda Kwek

10.20am: The rain has started to fall at Circular Quay. But no one is really put off, with lots finding cover under hats, umbrellas - printed with the Australian flag or green and gold, of course - and even garbage bags.

The Rocks is filling up with food stalls selling all kinds of Aussie favourites, from the bacon and egg roll and the sausage sandwich to the good old steamed pork bun. The smell of barbecue is wafting through the city air.

Food galore ... stalls at The Rocks are doing a decent trade. Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

10.05am: Ah, the Australian flag cape. Once an Australia Day uniform, this is the first one spotted in the crowd at Circular Quay.

Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

10.02am: Jean Barker has travelled in from Mount Druitt with her son Sean Barker, from Windsor, and daughter-in-law Sue Clayton, from Lane Cove.

They are set enjoy a lunch cruise around the harbour - to celebrate the life of Mrs Barker's husband Aubrey John, who would have marked his 80th birthday yesterday. Mr Barker passed away on January 5.

"We've always enjoyed the [Australia Day] celebrations on TV but never came out."

For Mrs Barker, who came out to Australia from England in 1970, Australia is the "land of opportunity".

"I came over with five children. I don't regret moving here - it's the best thing I ever did."

Celebrating in style ... this trio will enjoy a lunch cruise. Photo: Glenda Kwek

9.58am: Fredirick Gorginian, 35, of Sydney, is spending the day at Circular Quay selling souvenirs. He is of Armenian heritage and moved to Australia from Iran when he was nine.

His cheeks covered in Australian flag stickers, today means a lot to him.

"It's about just celebrating being an Australian citizen.

"It's so hard to get into this country these days.

"It's about just being thankful."

Happy man ... Fredirick Gorginian. Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

9.48am: Barbara Davidian, from Strathfield, is showing her Zambian friend Sibonisiwe Chipembere around Sydney. It's Ms Chipembere's first time in Sydney and she's hoping to take in a full day of festivities.

Ms Davidian, however, thinks that Australia Day should be celebrated on another date, such as Federation Day, as "the Aboriginals feel left out" on January 26.

Out and about on Australia Day. Photo: Glenda Kwek

9.42am: Sayem, who came to Australia from Bangladesh seven years ago, is working today at the harbour - but he's not upset about it.

He says he is just happy to be in Australia.

"People say there is racism in Australia. Maybe that's true, but for me, I've not experienced any. I believe if you are hardworking, dedicated and honest, people will be the same back to you."

9.37am: Some people are really not shy about showing their Australian spirit. Like this guy in his bikini.

Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

9.35am: Many Aussies will have to put up with extreme weather as they celebrate Australia Day, AAP reports.

Thousands of people on the NSW north coast could be forced to leave their homes and campervans as floodwaters continue to rise.

Wild storms, heavy rain and wind in Darwin and Queensland have cancelled many organised events.

Meanwhile, WA is bracing for a heatwave.

Those in Melbourne and Adelaide will have a fine, warm day, while Tasmania can expect mild winds and showers.

A NSW Fire Brigades officer pushes a stranded couple out of danger in floodwaters near Binna Burra in the Northern Rivers region. Photo: Nick Moir

9.25am: Today is also a huge day for Australian music fans, with Triple J's iconic Hottest 100. You can follow the progress and predictions on Twitter under the hash tag #hottest100. Lots are expecting Gotye's Somebody That I Used To Know and Matt Corby's Brother to make it to the pointy end of the countdown.

9.20am: Prolific tweeter Shane Warne has been typically trigger-happy this morning.

Hungry ... Shane Warne. Photo: https://twitter.com/#!/warne888

9.10am: Jumping in Sydney Harbour in your budgie smugglers under the shadow of the Opera House while Paul Kelly songs blare through the air - it's a picture perfect Australia Day moment (just ignore the grey skies).

Hundreds of swimmers of all ages are taking the plunge this morning in the Great Aussie Swim.

9.02am: Kristen Bell and her family, from San Souci in south Sydney, head down to the harbour every year to celebrate Australia Day. This year, they will take a cruise to Shark Island.

"This is Sydney," she said, sweeping her hand across the harbour behind her.

"The Opera House, the Harbour Bridge and the harbour. This is what Australia Day is to us ... The weather wasn't going to stop us from coming here.

"It's good to be Australian. I travel a lot for work ... but you always feel your heart beating when you arrive back in Australia."

And for her niece, Gabriella Guest, Australia Day is all about having fun.

Having fun ... Gabriella Guest. Photo: Glenda Kwek

9am: Ahead of the Great Aussie Swim in Sydney Harbour, there are plenty of people in their green and gold, but this huge flag on the side of a cruise ship docked off Garden Island takes the cake, reports Stephanie Gardiner. Check it out.

A huge flag adorns a boat on Sydney Harbour. Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

8.58am: Plenty of people are tweeting about Australia Day. The Minogue sisters hit the microblogging network to offer their best wishes:

Happy Australia Day to all the Aussie's at home and abroad #OiOiOiDannii MinogueHappy Australia Day!!!!!!!!!!! Mwahhh!Kylie Minogue

... while some have even tweeted pictures of Australia-shaped cookies. Check them out here.

8.52am: The Wiggles were in the news all last week after Greg Page replaced Sam Moran in the popular children's musical group. Now here's your chance to see Page perform in the yellow skivvy for the first time since his return, with the band releasing their version of Waltzing Matilda for Australia Day.

8.40am: Hundreds of people have gathered to watch a morning ceremony at Farm Cove in the Royal Botanic Gardens.

Dozens of indigenous performers are telling the story of Megamara, a young Aboriginal woman who lives by the waters of NSW.

The performance is being held under grey skies by Sydney Harbour, as cockatoos fly over head.

Governor Marie Bashir is in the crowd wearing a bright sun visor printed with the Australian flag.

Telling the story of Megamara. Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

8.27am: It's a low-key start to Australia Day at Circular Quay this morning, reports Glenda Kwek.

A handful of joggers power purposefully around the harbour, while tourists mill around and restaurant staff set up food stalls at The Rocks. The rain, pouring down earlier this morning, has stopped, leaving a pale grey sky more reminiscent of a quiet winter's day.

Grey skies over the Opera House this morning. Photo: Glenda Kwek

8am: Rows of vintage cars, many decorated with Australian flags, are lined up along Macquarie Street.

Bob Lamond, 76, from a property near Mudgee, will drive from Perth to Sydney on March 16 in the same car that Syd Ferguson and Francis Birtles drove across the country in 1912. He'll be joined by 43 others in century old cars as part of the Veteran Motors Across Australia centenary expedition in March.

Mr Lamond said he believed Australia Day was a time to reflect on the country's history.

"I'm a sixth generation Australian. My great-great-great grandmother came out in chains on the First Fleet.

"Australia Day to me is a commemoration of the whole history of this country.

"The heroes of the young today are generally footballers or sports people. I think it's a time when we should remember all the other heroes, like Syd and Francis."

Vintage cars have descended on the city. Photo: Stephanie Gardiner

7.30am: Judging from the near empty streets, many Sydneysiders are marking Australia Day with that great Aussie tradition: the sleep in.

An empty Martin Place this morning. Photo: Stephanie GardinerWHAT'S ON ACROSS SYDNEY

SYDNEY CBDWoggan-ma-gule ceremony Royal Botanic Gardens, 8am10km wheelchair race starts Alfred Street, Circular Quay, 9amSample Sydney various museums and exhibitions open for free or reduced prices, 10am to 5pmNRMA Motorfest Macquarie and College streets, 10am to 5pmFestival of the Voice The Rocks, 11.30am to 8.30pmChildren's Stage The Village Green, Darling Quarter, 11.30am to 4.30pmWorld Music and Dance Program Palm Grove, Darling Harbour, 12pm to 6pmAustralia Day Spectacular and Fireworks Cockle Bay, 7pm to 9pm

HYDE PARKABC for Kids Concert Main stage, 10am to 2pmHave a Go Sport Kids Playground, 10am to 5pmLiving Australian Outdoor Gallery Hyde Park North, 10am to 5pmReel Australia Short Film Screening 10am to 5pmLord Mayor's Citizenship Ceremony Main stage, 2pm to 3pm

SYDNEY HARBOURGreat Australian Swim Series 8.30am to 10amFerrython 11am to 12pmRegatta 1.15pm to 6pmSydney Ports Jazz on the Water Pirrama Point Park and Johnstons Bay, 3pm to 9pm

TRANSPORTRoad closures in the CBD, The Rocks, Circular Quay and Darling Harbour. Special clearways and altered opening times for the Spit Bridge.Go to rta.nsw.gov.au for details.Extra city train and bus services. Go to 131500.com.au.

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