“Great Day” opens early on the morning of Audley Tyler’s seventy-second birthday, which is the same day as a national Australian holiday. Angie, Audley’s daughter-in-law, sits gazing out to sea while nearby, Audley is fishing. When Angie walks back to the house, she is greeted by her son, Ned, who informs her that Fran is coming with Audley’s son, Clem, her ex-husband. Angie is always “ill at ease” in the kitchen of her mother-in-law, Madge, where Angie sits drinking tea. Her daughter, Jenny, asks Angie whether Audley has caught any fish, and Ned asks why Fran and Clem are still friends after their divorce, but no one answers them. Ned agrees to go out and pick wild spinach with his sister for Madge’s soup. The narrator notes that the daughters-in-law never really feel a part of the tightly knit Tyler clan. Today, the entire family along with some neighbors will gather to celebrate Audley’s birthday. Later, Audley comes back to the house with two freshly caught blackfish, and he eats breakfast. The narrator explains that Audley was an important official in the Australian government for thirty-seven years. Madge puts the fish in the sink and turns to one of the children’s books she is writing, which she bases on her family’s experiences. Angie goes outside again, and Ralph, her husband, joins her. An hour later, Fran arrives followed in a separate car by Clem. The children are confused when Clem asks them whether he and Fran look like newlyweds. They know that since his car accident, “Clem said things , just whatever came into his head.” Three years before, he swerved his car to avoid hitting a boy and crashed; the accident put him in a coma for fourteen months.
Fran used to be the girlfriend of Jonathon, Clem’s brother, but she had gotten tired of his marked self-confidence. Determined that she would “save” Clem from his family, she married him, but then she left after only two years. They remained friends after the divorce, “locked in an odd dependency.” She and Angie, who both feel like outsiders in the family, have become friends. Audley is the only member of the family with whom Angie feels a connection.
Clem sits in the kitchen with Madge, asking her to talk about him when he was a child since many of his memories were erased by the accident. She tells him some stories, and he admits that he does not remember them. When he asks her if she and his father loved him, Madge answers, “Of course we did,” and insists that he was Audley’s favorite. After Clem claims that he thought he was a disappointment to his father, Madge replies, “Maybe. Maybe that too.” When he hears his father approach, he runs out the door and gives him a bear hug, telling Audley how glad he is to see him.
Later, Ned sees a group of people heading to the beach. A child from the group introduces himself to Ned, but Ned is furious that the boy has taken him unawares and rebuffs him. When he gets back to the house, Ned asks his father whether the group is allowed to make a bonfire on the beach, and Ralph tells him that they are, which angers Ned who stalks off to tell his grandfather. Ned admires Audley for his formality, which his own father lacks. After he gets no response from his grandfather, Ned goes back to the beach and spies on the group. As he leaves, he stumbles on the boy who had introduced himself and says, “Hi,” to him by way of reconciliation.
Audley walks to town and heads toward the Waruna Folk and History Museum, which he often visits. The museum holds a collection of Tyler family artifacts and offers Audley a chance to reminisce about the past.
At seven-thirty, the guests begin to arrive. Jonathon, who brings a new girlfriend, is followed by “an old flame of Audley’s,” according to Madge. An hour later, groups of men “vigorously” argue while the women sit “on the sidelines.” As Fran wanders from group to group, Clem watches her from the background. Cedric Pohl, a guest whom she has never met before, introduces himself to Fran. As they chat, she notices that he is interested in her.
Feeling that “too much might be happening too fast,” Fran escapes outside where Ned, Jen, and some of their cousins are dancing to music from a stereo. Fran thinks about how during visits there she used to fill notebooks with angry epithets about the Tyler family, who she felt never fully accepted her. When Audley approaches and tells her he will get her something to drink, she feels the same desire to be a part of the family, but then, just as suddenly, she feels the same anger over her exclusion. She grabs Angie and the two escape to the beach.
As they walk along the beach, Fran admits that Cedric has asked to drive her home. Angie insists that he is “a bit of a s——,” explaining that he has cheated on his wife. After they come across the group that Ned had seen on the beach, they stop and watch for a while. Fran imagines herself joining the group.
As they walk back to the house, they see a strange glow in the sky, which turns out to be the museum that has been set on fire by arsonists. When all in the house race to town, they discover that the museum cannot be saved. Audley feels oddly relieved as he stands next to his old friends and watches the museum burn, knowing that many objects connected to his past are being destroyed.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, David Malouf, Published by Gale Group, 2006