Australia, like many countries, has a number of public holidays and bank holidays which celebrate everything from the Queen’s birthday to the role of workers, or which simply encourage families and friends to spend time together. However no Australian holiday is marked with the number of celebrations, activities, and controversies, as Australia Day.
Celebrated on the 26th of January, Australia Day marks the arrival of the British Fleet in 1788 and the founding of what has become modern Australia.
A Brief Chronological History of Australia Day
1788 – Governor Arthur Phillip raises the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove and claims Australia as a British Colony. The fact that Australia was a part of the British Empire can be attributed to timing and weather. French ships arrived in Botany Bay only a couple of days after the British Fleet, but were delayed in reaching land by major storms. These same storms prevented all but one of the British fleet from reaching Sydney Cove and establishing a settlement.
1808 – By this time the colony’s residents, many of whom were emancipated convicts, had begun to celebrate the date. The 1808 celebration began after sundown on the 25 January and was marked by “drinking and merriment”.
1817 – The Sydney Gazette reported that about forty select guests attended a dinner party at the home of Isaac Nichols to celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the colony.
1818 – Governor Lachlan Macquarie chose to hold the first official celebration on the 30th anniversary of the colony’s founding. He declared it as a holiday for all government workers and gave each of them an extra pound of fresh meat. He also ordered a 30-gun salute at Dawes Point, one for each year since the founding, marking the start of a long-standing tradition. The day was known as Foundation Day.
1837 – Australia Day has a long association with sporting events. The first Australia Day regatta was held in Sydney Harbour in 1837.
1901 – On New Year’s Day of 1901, the British colonies formed a Federation which gave birth to modern Australia.
1935 – The term Australia Day is first used by all territories and states.
1994 – January 26 is marked as an official public holiday in all states and territories.
Australia Day has come to celebrate the diversity of the country in its scenery, residents, and culture. However it is not free of controversy. In some of the earliest celebrations there were accusations of elitism surrounding various celebrations. In modern times Indigenous Australians and other groups have protested the day which some refer to as “Invasion Day” marking, as it does, the arrival of the first Europeans to Australia not the arrival of the first people.
Today, Australia Day is marked by an immense about of civic pride for many of the country’s citizens with over half of the population attending Australia Day events. Thousands of events including concerts, sporting events, breakfasts, awards and new citizens’ ceremonies, community festivals, and speeches by government and civic officials.