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Time to remember another September

Even before European settlement, the time of the Ngoonungi, as the Eora people called it, was always a time for ceremony and celebration. They considered this a magical time of year, when the cool weather would start getting warmer, and the flying foxes would gather in the night sky, and they would gather, too, to watch. They’d observe the swirl over Sydney just after sunset, a huge sky-dancing display like our modern-day New Year’s Eve fireworks, as the nocturnal creatures descended from the north, then headed off for their hunting and feeding grounds to the south.

Jasmine, the scent which fills Sydney's streets in spring.

Jasmine, the scent which fills Sydney’s streets in spring.Credit:Jennifer Stackhouse

Spring began with the appearance of splashes of bright red throughout the bush, when the Miwa Gawaian, as they called our state flower, the waratah, and giant gymea lilies would sprout like giant beacons of hope. Aboriginal people roasted the young stems of the lily to make a kind of cake. This treat followed the deprivations of cold windy August.

Across the city still, from our golden sandstone coastal outcrops and ridges, to the inland mangrove swamps and tracts of bush, you can see these blazes of red bloom.

But added to them we have European imports to celebrate the arrival of spring in September: cascading wisteria and fragrant field freesias which sprout from cemeteries from Waverley to Rookwood. Walkers emerge from their winter cocoon in September to enjoy the early morning and later evening light, and pack the pathways as the Japanese do for their Hanami (“Spring flower viewing”) sessions.

Cherry Blossoms in bloom at Auburn Botanical Gardens marking the arrival of spring.

Cherry Blossoms in bloom at Auburn Botanical Gardens marking the arrival of spring. Credit:Wolter Peeters

No wonder the Sydney Olympic committee chose this month for us to host the summer Games in 2000 from September 16 to October 1. Instead of spring racing and footy finals, which had been held in this month, suddenly September became synonymous with other sports.

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It was of course September 1993 when Juan Antonio Samaranch changed the course of this city’s history by declaring Syd-er-ney the winner of the Olympic bid – in a narrow 45-43 victory over our nearest rival, Beijing. It was September 23 in Monaco but 4.27am September 24, Sydney time, when crowds erupted in excitement, from Circular Quay to Homebush Bay, at the news.

As a reporter covering the 1993 Monaco announcement, I remember watching the train of politicians trail into Monaco’s Louis II Stadium. From then PM Paul Keating and premier John Fahey, whose death was confirmed on Saturday, to then federal and state opposition leaders John Hewson and Bob Carr, along with the Sydney bid’s secret weapon, Annita Keating, the PM’s then wife, who had been able to wow International Olympic Committee members with the many languages she spoke.

You could sense their anticipation, which on reflection is what September is all about: hope. Once our city and its extra syllable was proclaimed winner, I saw premier Fahey leap into the air, a move he will forever be remembered for. I remember, albeit dimly, the Monaco party to end all parties hosted by then lord mayor Frank Sartor. I’d never been to such a celebration of Sydney before. But I have since.

Gymea Lillies.

Gymea Lillies.

That was September 25, 2000, when Cathy Freeman won Olympic gold in the 400-metre final. Those of us lucky to be in the crowd stood up from the moment she started running, cheering the sprinter to the finish line. But it was the same across the nation. The deafening roar when she won felt like it would take the roof off the stadium. As she lay down on the track and sobbed, it was clear her tears were not just from exhaustion.

As we approach the 20th anniversary there will be many retellings of that race, including her own in the documentary Freeman, which airs on the ABC on Sunday night. Take yourself back to that moment, too.

There is no better time for nostalgia than now. So ask yourself, what do you remember about that September?

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