By Felicity James
It was a sparkling June day in the Big Apple. Despite early morning storms casting a potential shadow over the afternoon, the beating rays of the summer sun refused to be vanquished. By midday the skies were crystal clear, the temperatures were balmy and the summer vibes were circulating once more… perfect conditions for a picnic in Central Park. And this was no ordinary picnic—it was the annual picnic organized by the Australian Women in New York group!
I had chanced upon the AWNY Facebook page only a couple of days earlier, in my quest to find a group of Antipodeans in my new home away from home, New York. Note the word ‘new’. I mean, I was proper new. Green. Fresh off the plane. I’d landed at JFK only a week prior to this gathering, and I was keen to make at least a couple of acquaintances with fellow country ladies. Lucky for me, their annual summer picnic was set for my first weekend in New York.
Armed with sunblock and Google maps, I navigated my way from Brooklyn to the Great Lawn. Upon arrival, I quickly realized that the storms had not deterred the home crowds—quite the opposite in fact. The greens were teaming with families, couples, groups of friends, toddlers, cyclists, joggers, sunbathers, salsa dancers—and that was only on the south end. I scanned the area, wondering how on earth I was going to identify a group of women I had never met, and who had never met me! Then, my ears suddenly pricked up. ‘Howzit goin?!’ I heard a female voice proclaim to another. A sense of warm familiarity washed over me! There was no mistaking the lilt of the Australian accent. The comforting tone, the rising inflection, not to mention the vernacular that only a fellow Down Under citizen would immediately comprehend.
My eyes finally caught up with my ears, and a couple of Australian flags and a blow-up kangaroo entered (bounced, rather) into my line of sight. Bingo! I wandered over to the group and introduced myself…
And what a beautifully warm welcome I received. Which is not surprising in the slightest—these are Aussies we are talking about here! Immediately I was invited to join them on one of the many picnic rugs laid out, each adorned with a variety of home-grown lollies (Coles bananas, anyone?), wine, beer and the like. The group was made up of around 40-odd people, with an even mix of families, couples and solo attendees like myself. There was face painting, a piñata, a raffle, even a TV journalist was darting around, collecting vox pops and filming the event (check it out here).
It was a two-hour affair, but by the end of the afternoon it felt like I had known these women for so much longer. Each person I chatted to had their own unique story of how they came to live in one of the greatest cities in the United States. As a newbie to New York, this was a wonderful experience to be in the presence of females who had built their lives not only in a brand new city but on a completely different continent, and to discover how they came to call New York their home. I returned from the picnic not only with a packet of banana lollies and some lovely connections, but with the knowledge that no matter where you are in the world, the Australian welcome and friendliness is unequivocal.
(AWNY would like to thank Carmen Cavallaro and Nakia Gordon of the AWNY Events and Mums and Dads teams, and our sponsors: Noni Balian from InStitchu and Jacinta Stewart from Art by Jacinta for their help with our annual Picnic in Central Park!)
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