Aus­tralia Day

Aus­tralia Day, 26th Jan­u­ary, marks the anniver­sary of the arrival of the First Fleet of 11 con­vict ships from Great Britain, and the rais­ing of the Union Jack at Syd­ney Cove by its com­man­der Cap­tain Arthur Phillip, in 1788 (read a com­pre­hen­sive his­tory of the evo­lu­tion of Aus­tralia Day here).
Though 26 Jan­u­ary marks this spe­cific event, today Aus­tralia Day cel­e­bra­tions reflect con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralia: a diverse soci­ety and land­scape, remark­able achieve­ments and a bright future. It also is an oppor­tu­nity to reflect on their nation’s his­tory, and to con­sider how Aus­tralians can make Aus­tralia an even bet­ter place in future.

On Aus­tralia Day, over half of the nation’s pop­u­la­tion of 21 mil­lion attend either an organ­ised com­mu­nity event, or get together with fam­ily and friends with the inten­tion of cel­e­brat­ing our national day. Many more spend the pub­lic hol­i­day relax­ing with fam­ily and friends.

Yet Aus­tralia Day is much more than bar­be­ques and fire­works. It is more than another pub­lic hol­i­day. It is more than the pride and excite­ment of new cit­i­zens who call them­selves Aus­tralian for the first time on 26 Jan­u­ary after being con­ferred citizenship.

At its core, Aus­tralia Day is a day dri­ven by com­mu­ni­ties, and the cel­e­bra­tions held in each town, sub­urb or city – uni­fied by the cel­e­bra­tion of what’s great about Aus­tralia and being Aus­tralian – are the foun­da­tion of its ongo­ing success.


Before 1770 - Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ples had been liv­ing for more than 40 000 years on the con­ti­nent we now know as Aus­tralia. At least 1600 gen­er­a­tions of these peo­ples had lived and died here.

Euro­peans from the thir­teenth cen­tury became inter­ested in details from Asia about this land to the south. From the six­teenth cen­tury Euro­pean car­tog­ra­phers and nav­i­ga­tors gave the con­ti­nent var­i­ous names, includ­ing Terra Aus­tralis (South­ern Land) and New Holland.

1770 - Cap­tain James Cook raised the Union Jack on what is now called Pos­ses­sion Island on 22 August to claim the east­ern half of the con­ti­nent as New South Wales for Great Britain.

1788 - Cap­tain Arthur Phillip, com­man­der of the First Fleet of eleven con­vict ships from Great Britain, and the first Gov­er­nor of New South Wales, arrived at Syd­ney Cove on 26 Jan­u­ary and raised the Union Jack to sig­nal the begin­ning of the colony.

1804 - Early almanacs and cal­en­dars and the Syd­ney Gazette began refer­ring to 26 Jan­u­ary as First Land­ing Day or Foun­da­tion Day. In Syd­ney, cel­e­bra­tory drink­ing, and later anniver­sary din­ners became cus­tom­ary, espe­cially among emancipists.

1818 - Gov­er­nor Mac­quarie acknowl­edged the day offi­cially as a pub­lic hol­i­day on the thir­ti­eth anniver­sary. The pre­vi­ous year he accepted the rec­om­men­da­tion of Cap­tain Matthew Flinders, cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tor of the con­ti­nent, that it be called Australia.

1838 - Procla­ma­tion of an annual pub­lic hol­i­day for 26 Jan­u­ary marked the Jubilee of the British occu­pa­tion of New South Wales. This was the sec­ond year of the anniversary’s cel­e­bra­tory Syd­ney Regatta.

1871 - The Aus­tralian Natives’ Asso­ci­a­tion, formed as a friendly soci­ety to pro­vide med­ical, sick­ness and funeral ben­e­fits to the native-​born of Euro­pean descent, became a keen advo­cate from the 1880s of fed­er­a­tion of the Aus­tralian colonies within the British Empire, and of a national hol­i­day on 26 January.

1888 - Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Tas­ma­nia, Vic­to­ria, Queens­land, West­ern Aus­tralia, South Aus­tralia and New Zealand joined NSW lead­ers in Syd­ney to cel­e­brate the Cen­te­nary. What had begun as a NSW anniver­sary was becom­ing an Aus­tralian one. The day was known as Anniver­sary or Foun­da­tion Day.

1901 - The Aus­tralian colonies fed­er­ated to form the Com­mon­wealth of Aus­tralia. The Union Jack con­tin­ued as the national flag, tak­ing prece­dence over the Aus­tralian red and blue ship­ping ensigns gazetted in 1903.

Mel­bourne was the interim fed­eral cap­i­tal. The Aus­tralian Cap­i­tal Ter­ri­tory was cre­ated out of New South Wales in 1908, the fed­eral cap­i­tal named Can­berra in 1913, and the Par­lia­ment House opened there in 1927.

1930 - The Aus­tralian Natives’ Asso­ci­a­tion in Vic­to­ria began a cam­paign to have 26 Jan­u­ary cel­e­brated through­out Aus­tralia as Aus­tralia Day on a Mon­day, mak­ing a long week­end. The Vic­to­rian gov­ern­ment agreed with the pro­posal in 1931, the other states and ter­ri­to­ries fol­low­ing by 1935.

1938 - While state pre­miers cel­e­brated the Sesqui­cen­te­nary together in Syd­ney, Abo­rig­i­nal lead­ers met there for a Day of Mourn­ing to protest at their mis­treat­ment by white Aus­tralians and to seek full cit­i­zen rights.

1946 - The Aus­tralian Natives’ Asso­ci­a­tion prompted the for­ma­tion in Mel­bourne of an Aus­tralia Day Cel­e­bra­tions Com­mit­tee (later known as the Aus­tralia Day Coun­cil) to edu­cate the pub­lic about the sig­nif­i­cance of Aus­tralia Day. Sim­i­lar bod­ies emerged in the other states, which in rota­tion, acted as the Fed­eral Aus­tralia Day Council.

1948 - The Nation­al­ity and Cit­i­zen­ship Act cre­ated a sym­bolic Aus­tralian cit­i­zen­ship. Aus­tralians remained British subjects.

1954 - The Aus­tralian blue ensign was des­ig­nated the Aus­tralian national flag and given prece­dence over the Union Jack. The Aus­tralian red ensign was retained as the com­mer­cial ship­ping ensign.

1960 - The first Aus­tralian of the Year was appointed: Sir Mac­far­lane Bur­net, a med­ical sci­en­tist. Other annual awards fol­lowed: Young Aus­tralian of the Year, 1979; Senior Aus­tralian of the Year, 1999, and Australia’s Local Hero, 2003.

1979 - The Com­mon­wealth gov­ern­ment estab­lished a National Aus­tralia Day Com­mit­tee in Can­berra to make future cel­e­bra­tions ‘truly national and Australia-​wide’. It took over the coor­di­nat­ing role of the Fed­eral Aus­tralia Day Coun­cil. In 1984 it became the National Aus­tralia Day Coun­cil, based in Syd­ney, with a stronger empha­sis on spon­sor­ship. Incor­po­ra­tion as a pub­lic com­pany fol­lowed in 1990.

1984 - Aus­tralians ceased to be British sub­jects. Advance Aus­tralia Fair replaced God Save the Queen as the national anthem.

1988 - Syd­ney con­tin­ued to be the cen­tre of Aus­tralia Day spec­ta­cle and cer­e­mony. The states and ter­ri­to­ries agreed to cel­e­brate Aus­tralia Day in 1988 on 26 Jan­u­ary, rather than with a long week­end. Abo­rig­ines renamed Aus­tralia Day, ‘Inva­sion Day’. The Bondi Pavil­ion protest con­cert fore­shad­owed the Sur­vival Day Con­certs from 1992.

1994 - Cel­e­brat­ing Aus­tralia Day on 26 Jan­u­ary became estab­lished. The Aus­tralian of the Year Award pre­sen­ta­tions began alter­nat­ing between Syd­ney, Can­berra, Mel­bourne and Brisbane.

2001 - Cen­te­nary of fed­er­a­tion. The National Aus­tralia Day Council’s national office had returned to Can­berra the pre­vi­ous year. In 2001 the Coun­cil trans­ferred from the Depart­ment of Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Infor­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and the Arts to that of the Prime Min­is­ter and Cab­i­net. Aus­tralians’ grow­ing famil­iar­ity with the Aus­tralia Day hol­i­day led the Coun­cil to focus on shap­ing their aware­ness of its sig­nif­i­cance and meaning.

2004 - The pre­sen­ta­tion of Aus­tralia Day awards — the focus of Aus­tralia Day — became fixed in Canberra.

Share this post

Submit to DeliciousSubmit to DiggSubmit to FacebookSubmit to Google BookmarksSubmit to StumbleuponSubmit to TechnoratiSubmit to TwitterSubmit to LinkedIn
Scroll to Top