|Also called||Anniversary Day, Foundation Day, Survival Day, Invasion Day|
|Observed by||Australian citizens, residents and expatriates|
|Significance||Date of landing of the First Fleet in Port Jackson in 1788|
|Observances||Family gatherings, fireworks, picnics and barbecues; parades; citizenship ceremonies; Australia Day honours; Australian of the Year presentation|
Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. Observed annually on 26 January, it marks the 1788 landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove and raising of the Union Flag by Arthur Phillip following days of exploration of Port Jackson in New South Wales. In present-day Australia, celebrations aim to reflect the diverse society and landscape of the nation and are marked by community and family events, reflections on Australian history, official community awards and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new members of the Australian community.
The meaning and significance of Australia Day has evolved and been contested over time, and not all states have celebrated the same date as their date of historical significance. The date of 26 January 1788 marked the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia (then known as New Holland). Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with the first official celebration of the formation of New South Wales held in 1818. On New Year's Day 1901, the British colonies of Australia formed a federation, marking the birth of modern Australia. A national day of unity and celebration was looked for. It was not until 1935 that all Australian states and territories adopted use of the term "Australia Day" to mark the date, and not until 1994 that the date was consistently marked by a public holiday on that day by all states and territories. Unofficially or historically, the date has also been variously named Anniversary Day, Foundation Day and ANA Day.
In contemporary Australia, the holiday is marked by the presentation of the Australian of the Year Awards on Australia Day Eve, announcement of the Australia Day Honours list and addresses from the governor-general and prime minister. It is an official public holiday in every state and territory. With community festivals, concerts and citizenship ceremonies, the day is celebrated in large and small communities and cities around the nation. Australia Day has become the biggest annual civic event in Australia.
Indigenous Australian events are now included. However, since at least 1938, the date of Australia Day has also been marked by some Aboriginal Australians and supporters mourning what is seen as the invasion of the land by the British and the start of colonisation, protesting its celebration as a national holiday. Invasion Day, Survival Day, or Day of Mourning is observed by many as a counter-observance on 26 January, with calls for the date to be changed or the holiday to be abolished entirely. Support for changing the date is a minority position; however, polls indicate some support for changing the date, particularly among Australians under age 30.
Arrival of the First Fleet: 1788
On 13 May 1787 a fleet of 11 ships, which came to be known as the First Fleet, was sent by the British Admiralty from England to New Holland. Under the command of Naval Captain Arthur Phillip, the fleet sought to establish a penal colony at Botany Bay on the coast of New South Wales, which had been explored and claimed by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. The settlement was seen as necessary because of the loss of the Thirteen Colonies in North America. The Fleet arrived between 18 and 20 January 1788, but it was immediately apparent that Botany Bay was unsuitable.
On 21 January, Phillip and a few officers travelled to Port Jackson, 12 kilometres (7.5 mi) to the north, to see if it would be a better location for a settlement. They stayed there until 23 January; Phillip named the site of their landing Sydney Cove, after the Home Secretary, Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney. They also made contact with the local Aboriginal people.
They returned to Botany Bay on the evening of 23 January, when Phillip gave orders to move the fleet to Sydney Cove the next morning, 24 January. That day, there was a huge gale blowing, making it impossible to leave Botany Bay, so they decided to wait till the next day, 25 January. However, during 24 January, they spotted the ships Astrolabe and Boussole, flying the French flag, at the entrance to Botany Bay; they were having as much trouble getting into the bay as the First Fleet was having getting out.
On 25 January the gale was still blowing; the fleet tried to leave Botany Bay, but only HMS Supply made it out, carrying Arthur Phillip, Philip Gidley King, some marines and about 40 convicts; they anchored in Sydney Cove in the afternoon. Meanwhile, back at Botany Bay, Captain John Hunter of HMS Sirius made contact with the French ships, and he and the commander, Captain de Clonard, exchanged greetings. Clonard informed Hunter that the fleet commander was Jean-François de Galaup, comte de La Pérouse. Sirius successfully cleared Botany Bay, but the other ships were in great difficulty. Charlotte was blown dangerously close to rocks, Friendship and Prince of Wales became entangled, both ships losing booms or sails, Charlotte and Friendship collided, and Lady Penrhyn nearly ran aground. Despite these difficulties, all the remaining ships finally managed to clear Botany Bay and sail to Sydney Cove on 26 January. The last ship anchored there at about 3 pm.
So it was on 26 January that a landing was made at Sydney Cove and clearing of the ground for an encampment immediately began. Then, according to Phillip's account:
In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king's health, and success to the settlement, with all that display of form which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits, and fills the imagination with pleasing presages.— The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay
The formal establishment of the Colony of New South Wales did not however occur on 26 January as is commonly assumed. It did not occur until 7 February 1788, when the formal proclamation of the colony and of Arthur Phillip's governorship were read out. The vesting of all land in the reigning monarch King George III also dates from 7 February 1788.
Although there was no official recognition of the colony's anniversary, with the New South Wales Almanacks of 1806 and 1808 placing no special significance on 26 January, by 1808 the date was being used by the colony's immigrants, especially the emancipated convicts, to "celebrate their love of the land they lived in" with "drinking and merriment". The 1808 celebrations followed this pattern, beginning at sunset on 25 January and lasting into the night, the chief toast of the occasion being Major George Johnston. Johnston had the honour of being the first officer ashore from the First Fleet, having been carried from the landing boat on the back of convict James Ruse. Despite suffering the ill-effects of a fall from his gig on the way home to Annandale, Johnston led the officers of the New South Wales Corps in arresting Governor William Bligh on the following day, 26 January 1808, in what became known as the "Rum Rebellion".
Almanacs started mentioning "First Landing Day" or "Foundation Day" and successful immigrants started holding anniversary dinners. In 1817 The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser reported on one of these unofficial gatherings at the home of Isaac Nichols:
On Monday the 27th ult. a dinner party met at the house of Mr. Isaac Nichols, for the purpose of celebrating the Anniversary of the Institution of this Colony under Governor Philip, which took place on 26 Jan. 1788, but this year happening upon a Sunday, the commemoration dinner was reserved for the day following. The party assembled were select, and about 40 in number. At 5 in the afternoon dinner was on the table, and a more agreeable entertainment could not have been anticipated. After dinner a number of loyal toasts were drank, and a number of festive songs given; and about 10 the company parted, well gratified with the pleasures that the meeting had afforded.— The Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser
1818 was the 30th anniversary of the founding of the colony, and Governor Lachlan Macquarie chose to acknowledge the day with the first official celebration. The governor declared that the day would be a holiday for all government workers, granting each an extra allowance of "one pound [c. 450g] of fresh meat", and ordered a 30-gun salute at Dawes Point – one for each year that the colony had existed. This began a tradition that was retained by the Governors that were to follow.
Foundation Day, as it was known at the time, continued to be officially celebrated in New South Wales, and in doing so became connected with sporting events. One of these became a tradition that is still continued today: in 1837 the first running of what would become the Australia Day regatta was held on Sydney Harbour. Five races were held for different classes of boats, from first class sailing vessels to watermen's skiffs, and people viewed the festivities from both onshore and from the decks of boats on the harbour, including the steamboat Australian and the Francis Freeling—the latter running aground during the festivities and having to be refloated the next day. Happy with the success of the regatta, the organisers resolved to make it an annual event. However, some of the celebrations had gained an air of elitism, with the "United Australians" dinner being limited to those born in Australia. In describing the dinner, the Sydney Herald justified the decision, saying:
The parties who associated themselves under the title of "United Australians" have been censured for adopting a principle of exclusiveness. It is not fair so to censure them. If they invited emigrants to join them they would give offence to another class of persons – while if they invited all they would be subject to the presence of persons with whom they might not wish to associate. That was a good reason. The "Australians" had a perfect right to dine together if they wished it, and no one has a right to complain.— The Sydney Herald
The following year, 1838, was the 50th anniversary of the founding of the colony, and as part of the celebrations Australia's first public holiday was declared. The regatta was held for a second time, and people crowded the foreshores to view the events, or joined the five steamers (Maitland, Experiment, Australia, Rapid, and the miniature steamer Firefly) to view the proceedings from the water. At midday 50 guns were fired from Dawes' Battery as the Royal Standard was raised, and in the evening rockets and other fireworks lit the sky. The dinner was a smaller affair than the previous year, with only 40 in attendance compared to the 160 from 1837, and the anniversary as a whole was described as a "day for everyone".
Prior to 1888, 26 January was very much a New South Wales affair, as each of the colonies had its own commemoration for its founding. In Tasmania, Regatta Day occurred initially in December to mark the anniversary of the landing of Abel Tasman. South Australia celebrated Proclamation Day on 28 December. Western Australia had its own Foundation Day (now Western Australia Day) on 1 June.
The decision to mark the occasion of the First Fleet’s arrival in 1788 at Sydney Cove and Captain Arthur Phillip’s proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern continent on January 26 was first made outside NSW by the Australian Natives' Association (ANA), a group of white "native-born" middle-class men formed in Victoria in 1871. They dubbed the day "ANA Day".
In 1888, all colonial capitals except Adelaide celebrated "Anniversary Day". In 1910, South Australia adopted 26 January as "Foundation Day", to replace another holiday known as Accession Day, which had been held on 22 January to mark the accession to the throne of King Edward VII, who died in May 1910.
The first Australia Day was established in response to Australia's involvement in World War I. In 1915, the mother of four servicemen thought up the idea of a national day, with the specific aim of raising funds for wounded soldiers, and the term was coined to stir up patriotic feelings. In 1915 a committee to celebrate Australia Day was formed, and the date chosen was 30 July, on which many fund-raising efforts were run to support the war effort. It was also held in July in subsequent years of World War I: on 28 July 1916, 27 July 1917, and 26 July 1918.
The idea of a national day to be celebrated on 26 January was slow to catch on, partly because of competition with Anzac Day. Victoria adopted 26 January as Australia Day in 1931, and by 1935, all states of Australia were celebrating 26 January as Australia Day (although it was still known as Anniversary Day in New South Wales). The name "Foundation Day" persisted in local usage.
The 150th anniversary of British settlement in Australia in 1938 was widely celebrated. Preparations began in 1936 with the formation of a Celebrations Council. In that year, New South Wales was the only state to abandon the traditional long weekend, and the annual Anniversary Day public holiday was held on the anniversary day – Wednesday 26 January.
The Commonwealth and state governments agreed to unify the celebrations on 26 January as "Australia Day" in 1946, although the public holiday was instead taken on the Monday closest to the anniversary.
In 1988, the celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet was organised on a large scale as the Australian Bicentenary, with many significant events taking place in all major cities. Over 2.5 million people attended the event in Sydney. These included street parties, concerts, including performances on the steps and forecourt of the Sydney Opera House and at many other public venues, art and literary competitions, historic re-enactments, and the opening of the Powerhouse Museum at its new location. A re-enactment of the arrival of the First Fleet took place in Sydney Harbour, with ships that had sailed from Portsmouth a year earlier taking part.
The various celebrations and civic ceremonies such as citizenship ceremonies, the Australian of the Year awards and the Australia Day Honours (introduced in 1975) only started to be performed on Australia Day from around the 1950s onwards.
Since 1988, participation in Australia Day has increased, and in 1994 all states and territories began to celebrate a unified public holiday on 26 January – regardless of the day of the week – for the first time. Previously, some states had celebrated the public holiday on a Monday or Friday to ensure a long weekend. Research conducted in 2007 reported that 28% of Australians polled attended an organised Australia Day event and a further 26% celebrated with family and friends. This reflected the results of an earlier research project where 66% of respondents anticipated that they would actively celebrate Australia Day 2005.
Outdoor concerts, community barbecues, sports competitions, festivals and fireworks are some of the many events held in communities across Australia. These official events are presented by the National Australia Day Council, an official council or committee in each state and territory, and local committees.
In Sydney, the harbour is a focus and boat races are held, such as a ferry race and the tall ships race. In Adelaide, the key celebrations are "Australia Day in the City" which is a parade, concert and fireworks display held in Elder Park, with a new outdoor art installation in 2019 designed to acknowledge, remember and recognise Aboriginal people who have contributed to the community. Featuring the People's March and the Voyages Concert, Melbourne's events focus strongly on the celebration of multiculturalism. The Perth Skyworks is the largest single event presented each Australia Day.
Citizenship ceremonies are also commonly held, with Australia Day now the largest occasion for the acquisition of Australian citizenship. On 26 January 2011, more than 300 citizenship ceremonies took place and around 13,000 people from 143 countries took Australian citizenship. In recent years many citizenship ceremonies have included an affirmation by existing citizens. Research conducted in 2007 reported that 78.6% of respondents thought that citizenship ceremonies were an important feature of the day. In September 2019, the Morrison Government amended the Australian Citizenship Ceremonies Code to require local councils to hold a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day.
The official Australia Day Ambassador Program supports celebrations in communities across the nation by facilitating the participation of high-achieving Australians in local community celebrations. In 2011, 385 ambassadors participated in 384 local community celebrations. The Order of Australia awards are also a feature of the day. The Australia Day Achievement Medallion is awarded to citizens by local governments based on excellence in both government and non-government organisations. The governor-general and prime minister both address the nation. On the eve of Australia Day each year, the Prime Minister announces the winner of the Australian of the Year award, presented to an Australian citizen who has shown a "significant contribution to the Australian community and nation" and is an "inspirational role model for the Australian community". Subcategories of the award include Young Australian of the Year and Senior Australian of the Year, and an award for Australia's Local Hero.
Research in 2009 indicated that Australians reflect on history and future fairly equally on Australia Day. Of those polled, 43% agreed that history is the most important thing to think about on Australia Day and 41% said they look towards "our future", while 13% thought it was important to "think about the present at this time" and 3% were unsure. Despite the date reflecting the arrival of the First Fleet, contemporary celebrations are not particularly historical in their theme. There are no large-scale re-enactments and the national leader's participation is focused largely on events such as the Australian of the Year Awards announcement and Citizenship Ceremonies.
Possibly reflecting a shift in Australians' understanding of the place of Indigenous Australians in their national identity, Newspoll research in November 2009 reported that ninety percent of Australians polled believed "it was important to recognise Australia's indigenous people and culture" as part of Australia Day celebrations. A similar proportion (89%) agreed that "it is important to recognise the cultural diversity of the nation". Despite the strong attendance at Australia Day events and a positive disposition towards the recognition of Indigenous Australians, the date of the celebrations remains a source of challenge and national discussion.
Some Australians regard Australia Day as a symbol of the adverse impacts of British settlement on Australia's Indigenous peoples. In 1888, prior to the first centennial anniversary of the First Fleet landing on 26 January 1788, New South Wales premier Henry Parkes was asked about inclusion of Aboriginal people in the celebrations. He replied: "And remind them that we have robbed them?"
The celebrations in 1938 were accompanied by an Aboriginal Day of Mourning. A large gathering of Aboriginal people in Sydney in 1988 led an "Invasion Day" commemoration marking the loss of Indigenous culture. Some Indigenous figures and others continue to label Australia Day as "Invasion Day", and protests occur almost every year, sometimes at Australia Day events. Thousands of people participate in protest marches in capital cities on Australia Day; estimates for the 2018 protest in Melbourne range into tens of thousands.
The anniversary is also termed by some as "Survival Day" and marked by events such as the Survival Day concert, first held in Sydney in 1992, celebrating the fact that the Indigenous people and culture have survived despite colonisation and discrimination. In 2016, National Indigenous Television chose the name "Survival Day" as its preferred choice on the basis that it acknowledges the mixed nature of the day, saying that the term "recognises the invasion", but does not allow that to frame the entire story of the Aboriginal people.
In response, official celebrations have tried to include Indigenous people, holding ceremonies such as the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, held in Sydney, which honours the past and celebrates the present.
Polling by Essential Media since 2015 suggests that the number of people celebrating Australia Day is declining, indicating a shift in attitudes. In 2019, 40% celebrated the day; in 2020, 34%, and in 2021 it was down to 29% of over 1000 people surveyed. In 2021, 53% said that they are treating the day as just a public holiday.
A poll commissioned by the IPA in December 2020 and published in January 2021 showed that support for changing the date had remained a minority position. In January 2021, an Essential poll reported that 53% supported a separate day to recognise Indigenous Australians; however only 18% of these thought that it should replace Australia Day. A poll by Ipsos for The Age / The Sydney Morning Herald reported in January 2021 that 28% were in support of changing the date, 24% were neutral and 48% did not support changing the date. 49% believed that the date would change within the next decade and 41% believed that selecting a new date would improve the lives of Indigenous Australians. Results were split by demographic factors, with age being a significant factor. 47% of people aged 18–24 supported changing the date, compared to only 19% among those aged 55 years or older. Individuals who voted for the Greens were most likely to support the date change at 67%, followed by Labor voters at 31% and Coalition voters at 23%. The 2022 IPA poll found 65% were opposed to changing the date, including 47% of 18-24 year olds, with 15% of the general population and 25% of 18-24 year olds in favour of changing it.
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