What Is Australia Day All About?

The Land Down Under has many special days that Australians celebrate throughout the year. Australia Day marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the British ships that arrived at Port Jackson in the state of New South Wales. It also marks the raising of the United Kingdom flag at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip. This day is an official National Day, held on January 26, and is a special day for all Australians.

What Is Australia Day All About?

On this day celebrations are held throughout the nation by the government, communities and by families. All Australians take time to reflect on the country’s history on Australia Day.

Even though this is a Public Holiday there are official community awards conducted on this day. There are also citizenship ceremonies that welcome new members to the Australian community. These new members come from all over the world to Australia to start a new life and become an Aussie citizen.

Special Date:

Australia Day – 26th January

Also known as Invasion Day, Survival Day, and Aboriginal Day of Mourning.


When Did Australia Day Start?

As I have mentioned at the start of this post January 26th 1788 marks significant events in the history of Australia. Together with the landing of the First Fleet and raising of the British flag, it also marks the proclamation of British sovereignty on the eastern seaboard of Australia.

Sydney Cove

This First Fleet of 11 British ships left Britain eight months earlier on May 13th 1787. The fleet was under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. The reason for this mass transport of people was to relocate convicts. The British government wanted to establish a penal colony in Botany Bay in New South Wales.

The continent of Australia was explored by the British back in 1770 by James Cook. This settlement was seen as suitable since the loss of the Thirteen Colonies in North America. The British could not send its convicts to this New World and so a substitute was needed.

The Arrival of The First Fleet

The fleet arrived between the 18th and 20th of January, however Botany Bay was deemed unsuitable for the settlement. Captain Phillip and a few officers then traveled to Port Jackson, 12kms to the north. Their landing spot was later to be named Sydney Cove.

Arrival of The First Fleet

Phillip and his company stayed at Sydney Cove until January 23rd. During this short stay they made contact with the local aboriginal people. They then returned to Botany Bay that same evening.

The following day the fleet was to make its move to the new location at Sydney Cove. However, due to a large gale this relocation was delayed until January 25th. But the fleet still had difficulty on this day and did not reach the new site of the settlement until January 26th. Botany Bay was thus possessed in the name of King George III on the 26th of the month.

In fact the formal establishment did not occur on January 26th. This did not occur until February 7th 1788 when a formal proclamation was read out.

The Land Of New Holland

At the time of the arrival of the First Fleet Australia was then known as New Holland. This name was applied in 1644 to this land by the Dutch seafarer Abel Tasman. When the British arrived in 1788 the area they settled at was named New South Wales. As a result the name New Holland was applied to the west of this new territory.

Netherlands Flag

The small island below mainland Australia would later be called Tasmania, after the Dutch seafarer Tasman. Before 1856 this island was originally named Van Diemen’s Land.

This special day in Australian history has been known by different names over the last two centuries. This day and it’s significance has evolved during this time. Before being known as Australia Day it has been known as Anniversary Day, First Landing, Foundation Day and Australian Natives’ Association Day.

The First Official Celebration in 1808

Records do show that there were celebrations on January 26th 1808. The first official celebration was held in New South Wales ten years later in 1818.

Australia Day Celebrations

New Year’s Day 1901 also marks a special day in Australian history. On this day the separate British colonies formed a Federation. And so this marked the birth of modern Australia.

As a result of this unification a national day was called for to celebrate this unity. However, it would not be until 1935 that Australia Day was officially recognized by all the states and territories. Up until 1994 this date was not even consistently marked as a public holiday.

What if Australia Day falls on the weekend? If this happens then the following Monday becomes a public holiday.


What Happens On Australia Day?

The day prior to Australia Day is also special for a number of Australians. An award known as the Australian of the Year is presented on this day. For a number of Australians their achievements throughout the past year are recognized by this event.

Australia Fireworks

There is also a list of notable Australians honored on this day, known as the Australian Day Honors list. They are given the Order of Australia, (AO). The Queen confers upon this list of Australian honors. Similar to the Australian of the Year award they are also recognized for their achievements.

Addresses are made by the Queen’s representative the Governor-General and the Prime Minister as well. Community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies are also held on this day.

Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia!


Controversy of Australia Day

As well as the above mentioned events some Indigenous Australian events are also included. Since at least 1938 Australia Day has marked this day as the invasion of the British onto the Aboriginal native land. There is also protesting that this day is celebrated as a national holiday.

Australian Aborigines

This day marks the loss of the Aborigines sovereign rights to the land. It also marks the loss of family and the right to practice their culture. To them it only marks the arrival of the British and the destruction of their lives.

It is similar to the struggles of the Native American people in North America. Many people protest Thanksgiving Day as a day that European settlers destroyed their own way of life.

These groups of protestors refer to January 26 as Invasion Day or Survival Day. These protestors want this date to be changed to January 1st, which is the anniversary of the Federation of Australia in 1901.

A Day of National Mourning!

Celebrations in 1938 saw the accompaniment of the Aboriginal Day of Mourning. Then in 1988 in Sydney a large gathering of aboriginal people led an Invasion Day commemoration. Still to this day some people refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day.

This day was referred to as Survival Day as early as 1992. It is thus a day that celebrates the survival of the Indigenous culture and heritage.

There have been calls to change the date of a national holiday due to this controversy.

Several different dates include:

  • January 1st – Federation of Australia
  • March 3rd – Australia Acts commencement
  • April 25th – ANZAC Day
  • May 9th – Opening of the first Federal Parliament
  • May 27th – Anniversary of the 1967 Referendum
  • July 9th – Constitution Day
  • December 3rd – Eureka Stockade

Final Thoughts

Although this day is marked by controversy I do believe that a day should be celebrated. There should be a day that all Australians can share with pride and honor. This day should allow them to be proud of their heritage, and as well recognize the achievements of both individuals and groups.

As to whether this date should be moved it is a muted point for me and many others. I am not saying that this day should be changed or not, but it is certainly open for debate.

What do you think?

Comment below!

After all it is a day of sorrow for the Aboriginal people and I acknowledge that. So we should all be sympathetic to what this day means for other Australians.

Not to sound bitter or harsh but this day has been set aside for nearly 70 years now. And so for many it is difficult for them to want change.

Until whether the date is changed or not, we should respect this date as a day to honor all Australians and recognized their achievements.


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