After a difficult festive season - and a challenging road ahead in the aftermath of record heat, drought and fires - Wollongong City Council is hoping Australia Day will be a chance for people come together.
Without fireworks - which have been cancelled out of respect for those affected by the bushfire crisis - Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery acknowledged the day would be more subdued than usual.
The council cancelled its usual fireworks display a week ago, in favour of a "more appropriate" light show and other entertainment.
Cr Bradbery said he could not predict whether this would result in lower numbers than usual, but - amid the bushfire crisis - believed the day would this year: "more than ever, be a chance to come together".
"It's an opportunity to reflect upon some of the bad things that have happened in our past, but also to turn our face towards the future and what we've just been through with the fires," Cr Bradbery said.
For this year, we need to look at the survival of our country into the future, and we also need to have a sense of normality in the midst of so many challenges over the last few months.Gordon Bradbery
"For this year, we need to look at the survival of our country into the future, and we also need to have a sense of normality in the midst of so many challenges over the last few months."
"We need to find our new normal as we face the future."
The day will also recognise the dark side of Australia Day which, held on January 26, marks the anniversary of the date British colonists began their occupation of Aboriginal land.
For the first time, the council has appointed an Australia Day ambassador - author Nikki Gemmell - who has publicly questioned the date of the national holiday because it is not inclusive of all.
Ms Gemmell has written in the past about her discomfort with "celebrating" such a day, and - at Wednesday's event launch - said it was important to be sensitive and mark Australia Day with compassion.
"This is a day for national reflection and compassion," she said, saying everyone should think about what the day means for "our indigenous brothers and sisters".
I am so proud to be Wollongong's ambassador but I do recognise that not all Australians celebrate this day, and some want a different day.Nikki Gemmell
"I am so proud to be Wollongong's ambassador but I do recognise that not all Australians celebrate this day, and some want a different day. They don't want this day to be on January 26, because for them it doesn't represent celebration, it represents a date when their world changed irrevocably, and destructively. "
Ms Gemmell, who grew up in Keiraville, also spoke of her love for Wollongong, saying she felt "a twist of joy" every time she saw Mount Keira.
"My Wollongong childhood gave me an appreciation for the best of Australia," she said.
"For a city's whose industry was built on the mighty back of migrant labour, for a city whose generous qualities of tolerance, harmony and diversity that are practiced here so beautifully."
She congratulated the council for "rapidly and sensitively" changing the usual Australia Day program amid the bushfires.
"Good on you for saying 'Nup, fireworks are not appropriate this year'," Ms Gemmell said.
Activities begin from 8am with the Aquathon at Wollongong Habour on January 26.
Entertainment, rides, markets, kids activities, and other events continue until an evening lantern parade and light show at 9pm.
Highlights of the day include:
- An Aquathon - the biggest in Australia-for all age groups
- Two stages with musical and circus acts
- Roaming entertainers
- A stage for young children aged 0-5 - with recyclable goods to play with a giant musical area and treasure hunt
- Two outdoor extravaganzas with whip cracking fun and farm yard pets
- Kite flying high on Flagstaff Hill
- The annual march and firing of the guns at Battery Park
- An inflatable thong race
- Skydivers dropping in during the day
- A sand sculpture competition
- An interactive display by the Wollongong Rollerhawks
The evening will feature a light show over Belmore Basin rather than the traditional fireworks display. There will also be a lantern parade.
Attendees will be encouraged to donate to the NSW RFS and the NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (WIRES).