THE hardships endured by the first English settlers over two centuries ago set the scene for the type of nation we appreciate today, according to Olympic athlete, Damian Brown.
He told a smaller than usual gathering at the Australia Day breakfast in Atkinson Park that one of the characteristics of our nation is that you can be a part of the community in Australia wherever you come from.
The decorated weightlifter acknowledged that the date of Australia Day caused tension, division and discussion, but said while he acknowledged the 60,000 years of settlement by Aboriginal people, he said that those in 11 small ships on the First Fleet who landed in Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788, had endured eight months at sea after leaving harsh conditions in England.
Among the 1500 people on board were 791 convicts, the youngest an orphan boy of nine transported for stealing food and the oldest an 82-year-old woman were later hanged herself.
"There was zero consideration for their welfare in the colony, established in inhospitable conditions where they truly faced conflict, starvation and hardship," he said.
"The Aboriginal people had been here for 60,000 years as hunter-gatherers in the driest, smallest continent. They are the original custodians, but when you consider the hardships of the later settlers, it's a wonder any of us are here today.
"We have grown to cherish a fair go with a strong sense of community, volunteering and sharing."
Mr Brown competed as a weightlifter at three Olympic Games and four Commonwealth Games, winning four gold, one silver and three bronze medals. He is the only person who has competed at 12 consecutive world weightlifting championships.
The Melbourne-based sports marketing business executive said that his greatest thrills as an athlete have been as Australian team flag-bearer for the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Manchester, England, and competing on home soil at the Olympic Games in Sydney.
The traditional Australia Day barbecue breakfast was prepared and served by the Rotary Club of Kerang and the official ceremony co-ordinated by the Lions Club of Kerang and led by Peter Niall.
In acknowledgement of the centenary of the conclusion of World War One, members of the Kerang district sub-branch of the Returned and Service League were chosen to conduct the flag-raising ceremony. The flag colour party included members of the Military Brotherhood motorcycle chapter, which provides peer support for war veterans.
Sarah-Jane Carmichael led the rendition of the National Anthem and the concluding We Are Australian with support from brass band members from Kerang and Swan Hill.
Cr Brian Gibson led the gathering in an acclamation of support for our nation and later acknowledged the myriad of volunteers who support our community.
"It is an honour and privilege to be a citizen of this great country," he said.