Australia Day, also known as Anniversary Day and Foundation Day, is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the unfurling of the British flag at Sydney Cove and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia.
This make it more like the American celebration of Thanksgiving than that of Independence Day. Australia became a Federation and the date that they became an independent country is actually January 1, 1901.
Australia Day is an official public holiday in every state and territory of Australia, and is marked by the Order of Australia and Australian of the Year awards, along with an address from the Prime Minister.
Records of the celebration of Australia Day date back to 1808, with Governor Lachlan Macquarie having held the first official celebration of Australia Day in 1818. In 2004, an estimated 7.5 million people attended Australia Day celebrations and functions across the country.
Australia Day is seen as controversial by some historians. Alongside proposals to change the date of Australia Day, there have been significant protests from the Indigenous Australian community. Many Indigenous Australians see Australia Day as a celebration of the destruction of Indigenous culture by British colonialism. Since 1988, "Invasion Day" protests have been held supporting this view.
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 Australia. Under the command of 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 by Captain James Cook in 1770. The settlement was seen as necessary because of the loss of the colonies in North America. Captain Phillip found Botany Bay unsuitable and with two boats proceeded a short distance northwards to Port Jackson, which he declared "the finest harbor in the world". The site decided upon for the first settlement was at a location where there was a stream of potable water and some level land, unlike much of the steep and rugged foreshore. By the afternoon of 26 January 1788, all of the fleet was at anchor in or near Sydney Cove. Before sunset, the British Flag (Queen Ann)was raised in the name of George III of Great Britain.
In 1808, the day was celebrated as the "First Landing" or "Foundation Day", as the colony had survived for twenty years, despite the initial hardships, deprivation and starvation suffered by the First Fleet settlers. The celebrations began at sundown on 25 January, and lasted into the night, the chief toast of the occasion being Major George Johnston. Johnston had the honor 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".
On 26 January 1818, the 30th anniversary, Governor Lachlan Macquarie held a 30-gun salute at Dawes Point and gave government workers a holiday – a tradition that was soon followed by banks and other public offices. In 1888, all colonial capitals except Adelaide celebrated 'Anniversary Day'. In 1910, South Australia adopted Australia Day, followed by Victoria in 1931. 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 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 actual anniversary day – Wednesday 26 January. (What is with NSW?) 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 actual anniversary.
In 1988, the celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet was organized on a large scale, with many significant events taking place in all major cities. Over 2.5 million people attended the event in Sydney, and the year was the first celebrated with a public holiday. 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.
Australia Day is the national day of Australia, and has been an official public holiday since 1994. Civic celebrations such as the Order of Australia awards are a feature of the day around the country. Parades are also held across the country. The Australia Day Achievement Medallion is awarded to citizens based on excellence in both government and non-government organizations. Air Force aerial displays are held in some capital cities, and firework displays are common. In Sydney, races are held, such as a ferry race, tall ships race and a surfing race across the harbor. Citizenship ceremonies are also commonly held on Australia Day. The Prime Minister also makes an address to 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 and Senior Australian of the Year, and an award for Australia's Local Hero.
Various music festivals are held on Australia Day, such as the Big Day Out, the Triple J Hottest 100, and the Australia Day Live Concert. In the last ten years, a One Day International cricket match in the Australian Tri-Series has been held on Australia Day at the Adelaide Oval. Prior to that, a Test match usually started at the Adelaide Oval on Australia Day.
I am not going to get into the controversy with the Aborigines. For more information on Australia Day and the celebrations, visit the official Australia Day at Australia Day.org.au. To all our "mates" in Australia, we wish you a G'Day!