Australians have their traditions when it comes to voting in an election and watching the results roll in on the Saturday night — from munching on democracy sausages, to watching how long it takes for the ABC’s Antony Green to call a winner after polls close. But we’ve never had to participate in a postal survey on an issue of policy, so activists have found other ways to mark the occasion.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will announce the results of the marriage equality postal survey at 10am on Wednesday, at a press conference at the Australian Bureau of Statistics in Belconnen, Canberra, to be broadcast live by TV networks. They will be read by Australian Statistician David Kalisch, who has promised that he won’t be taking too long to make the outcome known. So how will activists on both sides of the debate celebrate or commiserate when the results come in? The Yes campaign has planned parties all over the country, some to take place during the day, and many others to start as workers leave their desks at 5pm.

A community picnic in Canberra to take place tomorrow grew from an idea between a few friends to an event in partnership with the official Yes campaign, when local Yen Eriksen suggested to her friends that they take the day off and spend it together. “I put in for annual leave for that day about three weeks ago, I’m not pulling a sickie because I knew I didn’t want to be at work that day. My management really respected that. I told them this day would be hard, and if it’s not hard I want to be with my community.”

The picnic, to be held in Haig Park in the suburb of Braddon, was organised around the community connected with community radio program Friday Night Lip Service, and now has a big screen for the results, a barbecue donated by unions, face paint and balloons donated by local businesses and it’s believed local politicians will be attending as well.

Tomorrow is going to be really important in that we have never had a day like this in Australia for our community and whichever way the day goes, people who aren’t part of the community can celebrate with us and not over us or for us, or by giving us space to grieve without making it about them.”

“It’s kind of been one of those events that run away from us a bit because people were so keen on the idea, and people really related to the idea that they may not want to be at work either.”

Eriksen said that even though she works in a “super supportive” workplace, it wouldn’t be the best place to be when the result comes in. Now her colleagues have been encouraged to take the morning off and attend the picnic, a gesture that she says has had a positive impact. 

Jane Mahoney, who participated in a mass illegal wedding with her partner in Melbourne at the start of the campaign, says she is taking the day off in order to be with other members of the LGBTI community. “If it is a yes vote, it will be a historical day and a really definitive moment in my lifetime for Australia’s LGBT community and I want to be there for it.”

It’s not just to hopefully celebrate that Jane is taking the day off, but also to protect her mental health. “Because I work in a newsroom, to be surrounded by people discussing it, no matter how well intentioned, sounds terrible.”

Mahoney says she knows a number of people from the LGBTI community taking the day off in order to watch the results come in. “Even if it’s a Yes vote there will still be a lot of emotion.”

Australian Marriage Equality is hosting parties all over Australia, with events to watch the results be announced on the steps of the State Library of Victoria and Northbridge Piazza in Perth. The after-parties will have streets closed in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney, with perhaps the biggest party to take place on Lygon Street between Melbourne’s Trades Hall and the John Curtin Hotel.

The No campaign says they won’t be holding official public events, no matter what the result is. Coalition for Marriage spokesperson Monica Doumit told Crikey there will be a small event for campaign staff and volunteers, but nothing on the scale of events planned by the Yes campaign. Doumit said the plans aren’t related to consistent polling that points towards a loss for the No side. Doumit acknowledged that if the No vote is successful, it will be a hard time for many Australians. “Even in the event of a No vote, this isn’t a champagne cork popping moment for us … they don’t need to see us making a scene.”

Peter Fray

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