ACT News

Thousands soaked with rain and hail at Australia Day celebrations

The threat of a severe thunderstorm and large hailstones did little to deter thousands from gathering at Parliament House to celebrate Australia Day on Monday night. .

Crowd at the Australian of the Year Awards.
Crowd at the Australian of the Year Awards.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

But the tourists, migrants and lifelong Canberrans who fought for space on the grass were completely drenched by 7.30pm when the weather took a drastic turn for the worse. 

Close to 14 millimetres of rain was recorded in Tuggeranong in just half an hour during the event, with similar reports in other parts of Canberra.

Ian Robertson of Morisset waves the Aboriginal and a Green and Gold flag.
Ian Robertson of Morisset waves the Aboriginal and a Green and Gold flag.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

Before the deluge, many Canberrans proudly wore Australian flags and face-paint normally reserved for major sporting events. 

For Marlies Wijntjes, a Dutch national who arrived in Australia a year ago today, the event was an opportunity to reflect on her first impressions.

"You can tell a lot about a country by the way it celebrates its national day," she said.

For some parents, it was a routine trip to Parliament House on a working day and an excuse to introduce their children to Jimmy Barnes.

"I'm a big Barnes fan so this has worked out pretty nicely for me," said Dean Thompson, whose son Stirling wasn't bothered by the afternoon humidity in a hooded, silk Australian flag onesie.

Most in the crowd were unsure who would claim the Australian of the Year award, but many carried signs expressing thanks to former winner Rosie Batty who campaigned tireless to prevent domestic violence.

Ian Robertson, who travelled from Morisset near Newcastle, said he was delighted to share the event with so many Australians.

As always, the Australia Day entertainment proved popular with some teenagers running for a front row view of X Factor star Samantha Jade

"We always have a great time with the family and just love it," said Sandra Cook from Macgregor, who was entertaining family from Coffs Harbour. "The kids love seeing the jets fly over the crowd close to sunset."

The Royal Australian Airforce Roulettes flew over Parliament House shortly before the crowd was hit with heavy rain. Large hailstones were also reported across the ACT.

The rain caused havoc across the territory with the ACT State Emergency Service responding to more than 250 calls for help in two hours.

Belinda Murphy was one of the first Canberrans to pass through the Parliament House gate at 5pm to get a front view of proceedings.

It's the first time my girls have been to a concert so of course it had to be Jimmy Barnes," she said. "You can't get much more patriotic than that."

Although the crowd had thinned by the time Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced the 2016 Australian of the Year, former Army chief David Morrison, many were still present.

Mr Turnbull braved the windy conditions and held an umbrella over Catherine Keenan, who was announced as Australia's "Local Hero" for 2016.