Australians gathered in Manhattan to celebrate Australia Day at the G'Day USA ball. It was an event that had been on the calendar for months but there was no escaping the sadness in the grand ballroom at the famed Waldorf Astoria after Ledger's death last week in New York.
The night began with a minute's silence and at times felt like an impromptu wake for Ledger among the ex-pat and visiting Australians in the US including acting legend Jack Thompson, actor Julian McMahon, supermodel Miranda Kerr, and rising Australian actress Rachael Taylor.
Pregnant Hollywood superstar Jessica Alba also attended the G'Day USA ball to present a special award to McMahon for excellence in entertainment.
During the minute of silence, as about 1200 guests rose to their feet and solemnly bowed their heads, the iconic image of Ledger from the film Brokeback Mountain where he wistfully stares into the distance filled two large television screens.
New York Consul General John Olsen also read a brief note at the ball that he had received from Ledger's dad Kim Ledger.
"Heath is and always will be an Australian. He adored his home. His last two weeks with us over Christmas in Perth were just bliss," Mr Ledger wrote. "Heath did not become an actor for the fame or fortune. He just loved his craft and he loved helping his friends. He loved chess and skateboarding too. My image of Heath in New York is him with his skateboard, a canvass bag and beanie. That was Heath."
Legendary Australian actor Jack Thompson described the 28-year-old's death as a tragedy for his family, friends and the acting community. "When I first saw Heath in Two Hands I knew that he was a young rising star and I said so to him at the time," Thompson said on the red carpet. "We've seen each other since but sadly we will see each other no more." Thompson said the Australia Day celebrations in New York were "tempered by just that tragedy. I think it' a loss. It's a great loss."
Later on stage at the gala to present a preview clip from the upcoming Baz Luhrmann film "Australia", Thompson said in a "kind of Irish, Celtic, Australian way" Ledger was being remembered on the evening. "And in a kind of Australian Indigenous way I refuse to utter his name," Thompson said, adding "he was one of us and gave to our industry in an extraordinary way". He said his passing had been honoured this evening and his "work will be honoured by all us forever".
Fashion designer Jayson Brunsdon said he had met Ledger once about five years ago but when he was flying to New York last Friday he saw the Ledger family at the Qantas lounge in Sydney. "It was just horrible. There were in tears and the whole place started crying. It was very sad," Brunsdon said. He said the G'Day USA ball on Australia Day in the US was "celebrating our identity and he (Ledger) was such an incredible ambassador for the country. So we can celebrate his life."
Singer Shannon Noll, who performed at the ball, said he had never met Ledger, recalling "I was at a nightclub once and he ran past" but said his passing was an absolutely tragedy for his family and daughter, Matilda.
Rising Australian actor Rachael Taylor, who was in Transformers, said Ledger's death was a loss to the international acting community. "I was incredibly inspired by his work as a young artist," she said. "It's a sad thing being here celebrating G'Day USA with that sort of tragedy."
Gunnedah girl and Victoria's Secret Model Miranda Kerr said it was nice that all the Australians could come together and "honour Heath's life". "It's obviously a shock to everyone and everyone is still trying to deal with it the best way they can." Kerr also said celebrating Australia Day in the Waldorf Astoria was a far cry from fairy bread and rafting down the river in Gunnedah.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officers had been in touch with Ledger's family and had offered consular assistance.
"I'm perfectly happy and satisfied that whatever assistance we can give is either occurring or has been offered," Mr Smith said.
Asked if he was aware of any memorial services for Ledger, Mr Smith said: "No I don't. It's entirely a matter for the family so I don't know the details. It should be left entirely to them for whatever arrangements they want at this terrible time for them."