4th* of July at the US Embassy

4 Jul

I’ve never been to the US Embassy in Canberra before. The building – situated among plenty of other embassies in the leafy suburb of Yarralumla – is instantly recognisable, with plenty of red bricks, white fences and white railings. It’s also recognisable by its sheer size. When I hear that there’s an opportunity going to be part of one of their biggest parties of the year – their 4th of July celebrations – as a ‘roving social media reporter’, I’m keen. To my surprise and delight, I get the gig. What follows, dear reader, is what I can happily describe as a whirlwind experience.

Like most days preceding (and to come), it’s a bitterly cold Wednesday* as a I gather with other media after passing through the Embassy’s security. The Embassy feels eerily quiet, but this belies the flurry of activity which has occurred in setting up such a large event, and the preparations still ongoing before the invitees arrive in just over an hour.

(* Discerning folks will note that Wednesday was indeed the 3rd of July – and, for much of it, the 2nd of July in the USA. The US Ambassador to Australia, Jeffrey Bleich, emphasises (a few times!) to all who gather that the celebrations are being held a day early so that they can all have the 4th of July as a public holiday – just as they would in the US. Ambassador Bleich jokes that if the public holiday wasn’t granted, there might be another revolution on his hands!)

The first bit of bunting I spot is simple and effective – and on closer inspection, looks very time consuming. I can’t help but feel for those who were no doubt on in the cold putting together such perfect decorations.

I wouldn't expect anything less!

I wouldn’t expect anything less!

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The grey cloud keeps the temperature around 3 degrees celsius

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Bunting in the tent where the official ceremony is held

Bunting in the tent where the official ceremony is held

We head down a path (past where they’re setting up delicious food!) to the Embassy’s tennis court. This year’s theme is sport, and there are plenty of tents set up where guests can test their skill: baseball (pitching and batting), AFL, golf, and more. It’s not long before I get my first glimpse of Ambassador Bleich and his wife Becky heading down the path to the media.

Ambassador Bleich and his wife

Ambassador Bleich and his wife

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The media is set up to ask their questions, and Ambassador Bleich takes his place. He fields questions about the incoming Ambassador (this is his last 4th of July celebration at the Embassy) and the relationship between Australia and the US.

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I’ve been told that I can also ask anything I want, so I take the opportunity and change the topics a little: “Ambassador, what’s been your favourite Centenary of Canberra celebration?”

The Ambassador defers to his wife, noting that they’ve done so much – that there’s been so much on – that it’s hard to choose. He notes that the Canberra Day celebrations were wonderful, giving special mention to the symphony held that night (I believe it was called ‘Century’). Some of the media joke that the Skywhale might be his favourite event, and he pauses before agreeing that yes, he does have some things to say about Skywhale. He agrees that it might just be his favourite event – it’s unusual. After all, no where else can claim to have a Skywhale.

Ambassador Bleich speaks fondly about the Skywhale

Ambassador Bleich speaks fondly about the Skywhale

The Ambassador then obliges the media by doing a few sports shots. Some more daring media actually get inside the sports tents to get some great shots of Ambassador Bleich throwing pitches, batting, and at the AFL tent, but – my head usually being a magnet for flying objects – I take my photos from outside.

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I can’t help but be impressed that he played golf with a suit jacket on

As we wrap up photos, invited guests have started to stream in. I spend the next half an hour checking out the food, scoping out the tent for the ceremony, and trying not to get in the way (I didn’t quite achieve the latter!).

Fries!

Fries!

There's a jazz band!

There’s a jazz band!

Well, hello there. (Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing.)

Well, hello there. (Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing.)

A range of drinks available in the ceremony tent - including Samuel Addams

A range of drinks available in the ceremony tent – including Samuel Adams

I quickly learn that there's no easy way to get a photo of the pulled pork sandwich stand

I quickly learn that there’s no easy way to get a photo of the pulled pork sandwich stand

You, too, look delicious (corn chowder)

You, too, look delicious (corn chowder)

Necessary ingredients at the hamburger stand

Necessary ingredients at the hamburger stand

Ambassador Bleich shakes hands with a guest in the garden

Ambassador Bleich shakes hands with a guest in the garden

Ambassador Bleich and his wife are excellent hosts - and graciously handle roving social media reporters following them around taking photos

Ambassador Bleich and his wife are excellent hosts – and graciously handle a certain roving social media reporter following them around taking photos

I’m not one for faces, but it’s not hard to spot current and former senior politicians, as well as Ken Helm from local Canberra winery Helm Wines. What’s more, there’s been a rumour that a special guest might be arriving, and just before 1pm (when the official ceremony is due to start), it’s confirmed. I’m conflicted: I know to get the good photos of the ceremony I should be in the tent early, but also: special guest! I take the chance and join the other journalists out the front again as we await the arrival of three blindingly-white official cars.

The Ambassador and his wife wait for the arrival of the special guests

The Ambassador and his wife wait for the arrival of the special guests

It's the Prime Minister!

It’s the Prime Minister!

Prime Minister Rudd (together with ACT Senator Kate Lundy) greets his hosts before acknowledging the waiting media. It’s all over in a matter of moments. The door shuts, and it’s a mad rush back to the ceremony tent before the Ambassador and the Prime Minister get there first. I manage to get a spot, but it’s shockingly bad so there are no photos for the next 30 minutes (which I’m willing to subject you to). Ambassador Bleich arrives first, followed by the Prime Minister, and then the marines.

First, the Ambassador proposes a toast to the Queen and Australia. The Australian anthem plays, and people sing loudly. Then, Australia proposes a toast to the USA, and the United States anthem plays. Ambassador Bleich gives the first speech. He thanks everyone for helping to celebrate America’s birthday, and describes everyone in attendance as a friend of the United States. With the sporting theme this year, he uses a baseball analogy to describe the day’s spirit: hope, getting back up again, and teamwork. It’s a special honour for him to present the Prime Minister, who is a great friend. The speech is very well received.

Then, it’s the Prime Minister’s turn. He remarks that baseball isn’t quite like the real game (cricket) and jokes that he takes issue with baseball’s ‘World Series’ which hardly includes any other country. The Prime Minister notes that there’s a little known fact: Australian and the US first fought together on 4 July, 1918. He describes the bond between Australia and the US as strong, but not the exclusive bond. He makes special mention of President Obama: someone who ‘gets it’. The PM also uses the speech to talk about Indonesia – a vast country which will soon be a vast economy – and encourages business to think about investing there. He concludes by wishing America a very happy birthday and acknowledging that he will miss the Ambassador and his wife.

(For those who’ve noted the Prime Minister’s tendency to use the former PM’s first name when referring to her, he also did so for the Ambassador and his wife.)

The Ambassador thanks the PM for his speech, and agrees about his point regarding the World Series. So much so that, instead of the 4th of July simply being a national day, it should be a world day!

With that, the official ceremony is concluded. The crowd surges towards the Prime Minister (and me with them!). Cameras flash, phones are raised, selfies are taken, and everyone else shakes the Prime Minister’s hand and has a very brief chat. I’m right in the thick of it – and am quickly wedged between the TV cameras and the Prime Minister himself. So much for not getting in the way! But hey, it makes for some close photos.

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The Prime Minister with Robert de Castella (acknowledged by both the Ambassador and PM)

The Prime Minister with Robert de Castella (acknowledged by both the Ambassador and PM in their speeches) (this may also be the back of a certain Senator’s head but I cannot confirm)

The journalists and cameramen head back out to the front of the building and I follow – not least because the sun is FINALLY out and I could use some hand-thawing.

After what can only be described as a hectic morning, the wait out the front of the building is a bit of a change of pace. Finally, the door opens, and it’s photo time. My camera is too busy churning through the thousands I’ve taken when the Prime Minister pretends to pitch his baseball gift towards the journalists, but the US Embassy media team gets a great shot:

However, I don’t reckon I do too badly.

The door opens!

The door opens!

Goodbyes with Senator Kate Lundy

Goodbyes with Senator Kate Lundy

The PM checks out his gift while walking to C1

The PM checks out his gift while walking to C1

The cameramen ask the Prime Minister to pose

The cameramen ask the Prime Minister to pose

It's a jolly affair!

It’s a jolly affair!

The PM asks the cameramen if they managed to capture the shot of him pretending to throw the baseball

The PM asks the cameramen if they managed to capture the shot of him pretending to throw the baseball

And just like that, it’s over.

For some, that is. They’re packing up big inside the venue, but there’s still food to be had! I haven’t been able to get these out of my mind:

Well, hello there. (Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing.)

Well, hello there. (Red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing.)

I can confirm they taste even better than they look.

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I may have had two.

The chocolates are also delicious.

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But the pulled pork has been tempting me from afar from so long. Finally we get acquainted. (I also don’t spill it everywhere – huge achievement.)

Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and Texas sauce. The bun was soft and sweet.

Pulled pork sandwich with coleslaw and Texas sauce. The bun was soft and sweet.

In the midst of saying goodbye to much more important guests, the Ambassador also takes the time to meet me and chat to me about my impressions of the day. I suspect he’s right when he says there aren’t too many celebrations like this one! I can only conclude that the Ambassador not only seems to be a good sportsman, but a good sport.

As a final treat, I’m given an insight into where all that frantic action has been happening: the kitchen.

Chef Peter is behind almost all of today’s extraordinary preparations. Even though it’s still frantic, he takes a moment to tell me just what the day has entailed for him. The pulled pork sandwich has come from 70 kilograms of pork belly cooked down. Over 65 kilos of Black Angus beef have starred in the hamburgers. That corn chowder you saw? NINETY litres were made. I didn’t get a picture of the pies, but I really regret not trying them when I hear there were both beef and guinness and chicken and leak flavours. Even more crazy: the bain-maries haven’t worked all day, so the kitchen has been keeping food warm in the kitchen before rushing the next wave of food outside when supplies get low. What a day!

Super chef Peter in action

Embassy Superchef Peter in action

Your intrepid reporter (from her best side) quizzing Superchef Peter (I’m taking notes on my phone between slurping on the delish corn chowder) (picture courtesy of the @USAEmbassyinOZ Twitter account)

What’s more, it’s not over yet. In a few hours it happens all over again, when the families arrive. I’m assured the celebrations will be much the same – same food, same spirit – but with one addition without which a 4th of July wouldn’t be complete: fireworks!

Happy 4th of July 🙂

Date: 10.30am-3pm, Wednesday 3 July

Cost: Free (but invite only)

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? Like the US Embassy Facebook page or follow them on Twitter. (If you were really hanging out for photos of the marines, try their Facebook page! 🙂 ) You can also try the #4oJinOZ hashtag on Twitter (Twitter shorthand for 4th of July in Australia!).

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5 Responses to “4th* of July at the US Embassy”

  1. Kelly Brightwell July 4, 2013 at 10:59 pm #

    Oh Tara, you did such a great job. ROFLMBO about the “I may have had two” comment!
    One picture has gone AWOL…the pulled pork sandwich.
    Hope to catch up soon.
    Kel xo

    • inthetaratory July 4, 2013 at 11:02 pm #

      Thanks Kel! Appreciate your support as always 🙂
      The picture of the pulled pork comes up on my page… I wonder what is going on…?

  2. Jas@AbsolutelyJas July 7, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    I love Ambassador Bleich and Becky. So sad that they will be leaving – they always seemed so friendly and approachable. I guess that’s why he’s an Ambassador 😉 Epic effort for the kitchen with the broken bain maries – that’s really impressive!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 4th of July at the US Embassy 2014* | In The Taratory - July 12, 2014

    […] extremely lucky to be selected to attend the Canberra US Embassy’s 4th of July celebrations and blog about it. While it was time to pass the mantle over to a new swag of local bloggers this year (Kylie, Tash […]

  2. Myt: Ramadan flyttar på nationaldagsfirande | Motargument - May 20, 2017

    […] Om 4th of July infaller på en helg är det regel att lokala amerikanska ambassader flyttar firandet till en vardag. Detta sker delvis för att få dit dignitärer från värdlandet, men även med tanke på amerikanerna i landet. Tanken är att amerikanerna ska få ha ledigt på 4th of July, precis som i hemlandet. (Se ett exempel från 2013 här!) […]

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