In the Victorian town of Wodonga on the Murray River, Pam Adams, 57, feeds the needy for no reward except the simple knowledge that she has done right. It's in her blood. Her mother's name was Virtue Hanley and she volunteered helping school children. Never mind that she had eight of her own.
''You're a long time dead - my mum always used to say that,'' says Adams, who features in the Australian of the Year Local Hero awards. Gongs are all right, she says, but not much in the end. Australia Day is about making the most of freedoms and that's a much better prize.
Her freedom is that she wants to help and she is able to. I ask her what people should think about, if only in a single quiet moment on Australia Day. ''Each other,'' she says. ''Each other. Helping each other, supporting each other.''
Four hours north-ish over the border and into NSW through Holbrook, Gundagai and Young, schoolboy Dimas Bakini is being lauded in his community of Cowra. He's school captain at Cowra High School this year and his peer support platform is to oppose bullying wherever and whenever it lurks. He has raised money for the local Headspace service, a national mental health initiative that does much deeply within the under-reported netherworld of youth suicide.
In Sydney itself, Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs NRL player Corey Payne works off-field at getting underprivileged young people from western Sydney into university. His father, Stephen, has worked for more than 40 years on a fruit barrow in the city. Every day for that time he has risen at 3am to go to the market to buy fruit to sell, just like his father did before him.
''Mum and dad never finished high school,'' says Payne, 28, a Young Australian of the Year contender. ''I want to raise the ambition and aspirations of kids who wouldn't see university as an option.''
What can happen in the west of Sydney and also the symbolic ''western'' outlands of Australia, through no fault of the people in question, is an invisibility and a kind of information blackout, he says. Low expectations are generational. Payne is now seeing young migrants who either didn't know they were allowed to go to university or didn't know how to find out about enrolling and then thriving.
After the mining boom is done and gone or fading, he says, they are the next best resource - a ''highly productive, highly intelligent workforce from traditionally under-represented kids''.
Is this what Pam Adams of Wodonga means when she says help each other, support each other? When she asks us to think of that, if just for a moment, on January 26 of all days?
Help can be personal or institutional. Big or small. No one can do it all the time - although the first Australian of the Year, immunologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet from Australia Day 1960, and the seven from the medical sciences since, suggest many in our midst give it a fair nudge. No one man or woman or child is a saint every day and every night. Yet there's just something intrinsically Australian about a helping hand, not an iron fist. As it always was and also shall be perhaps forever.
Doug Anthony sat on a tree stump in a TV studio in 1972 to make a policy speech. He was leader of the National Party and deputy prime minister to Billy McMahon at the time, and the country was changing fast. There was a glimpse of an interesting and better future ahead. As Donald Horne wrote in his book Time Of Hope, Anthony used the language of expectation and yearning to express the times and his political symbolism of those times.
There's just something intrinsically Australian about a helping hand, not an iron fist.
The nation, Anthony said, ''must find new approaches to the new kinds of challenges''. Reappraise the role of women in society. Take young people seriously. Be ''sensible and responsible'' with our natural resources. Show the world how to shape the patterns of urban growth. Fight the ''scourge'' of pollution.
All of which sound like things that might have been said in the year just gone, and much of it was. Miles Franklin Award-winning author Anna Funder, who wrote All That I Am and who was raised in Melbourne but lives in Brooklyn, New York, says the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard's, misogyny speech in Parliament in October was a ''game changer''. But there was still the same level of expectation and yearning now as that which Doug Anthony expressed more than 40 years ago; the very real sense that change was afoot.
The ''macho culture'' is pervasive, Funder says. The Prime Minister's angry uprising marked an important point in time. ''I hope that it now becomes unacceptable to speak about women or to women in those ways,'' Funder says. ''It is a squandering of Australian talent for women to fall behind.''
Yet Funder says it seems to her - looking on carefully from elsewhere - that this country looks like the future, where there is wealth, where there is cleverness and where, although there is a gap between rich and poor and no widely accepted good way of treating unprocessed asylum seekers who want to come and live here, among the freedoms, they are not finalities. Australia still evolves, there is still yearning to be done.
''If you are born poor in Australia,'' Funder says, ''you do not need to be poor forever. More people have more of a chance to do more things.''
In an Australia Day statement, Gillard says that as Australians what we have is optimism and confidence, and that spirit ''drives us to ensure that the next generation enjoys longer, healthier, more prosperous lives, filled with more opportunity than we do today''.
The land we stand on could be ''harsh and unforgiving'', Gillard says, ''but Australians had made it the best place to live on Earth … we seem to intuitively act on the shared belief that we are all in this together and we will best get through it by looking after each other''.
Isn't that what Pam Adams of Wodonga - feeding the needy through her Uniting Church and her Foodshare Centre - asked for Australia Day? Corey Payne plays football at the highest level, which is as Australian as it gets, to some, to many. But he is also able to help, to lend a hand.
Former Australian of Year, the eminent psychiatrist Patrick McGorry, AO, used the platform three years ago to say we were a people who celebrated ''life, landscape and freedom'' and had vast potential yet were still ''closed'' to some possibilities.
He also stressed that rather than encouraging a patriotism built on barbecues, beer and the red, white and blue flag, he chose to spend it with Aboriginal people commemorating ''Survival Day'' - January 26 being the day in 1788 that Captain Arthur Phillip's first fleet of 11 British ships came to Sydney Cove and stuck a Union Jack in the ground.
Writes Marcia Langton, AM, the foundation professor of Australian Indigenous Studies at the University of Melbourne and an anthropologist, geologist and policy maker from the Yiman/Bidjara people: ''Aboriginal societies and their territories were [then] overrun by settlers, and in many parts of the continent and its islands, if they survived at all, they did so in much reduced and horrible circumstances.''
For the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, Australia Day is a day to count blessings and reflect on achievements as a nation.
''As we gather in backyards, parks and beaches, at barbecues and community ceremonies, we can be proud of who we are as a people and of all that we have achieved as a nation,'' he says. A former penal colony is now one of the world's oldest continuous democracies.
Abbott says our recent dangerous summers of flood and fire have also ''demonstrated our instinct to look out for each other as individuals and communities - the lesson of our history is that we are at our best when we share our successes, and support and encourage each other.
''As John Howard often said, the things that unite us as Australians are infinitely greater and more enduring than the things that divide us,'' he says. ''On this Australia Day, may we be proud of our history and hopeful about our future.
''In my first speech to the Parliament almost 19 years ago, I expressed my confidence that 'there is no limit to what Australia can achieve', and have never wavered in my belief that our best days as a nation are ahead of us,'' Abbott says.
Thirteen years into this new century, Pam Adams of Wodonga says the poverty and injustice she sees up close among the poor and the vulnerable will continue. Ours is still a relatively new country. ''There will be more of it,'' she says, ''and that's a shame. But we can do it. People cry with me and I cry with them, but we can do it.''