Australia Day is the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, it marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British Ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and raising of the Flag of Great Britain at that site by Governor Arthur Phillip. In present-day Australia, celebrations 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 immigrants into the Australian community.
The meaning and significance of Australia Day has evolved over time. Unofficially, or historically, the date has also been variously named “Anniversary Day”, “Invasion Day”, “Foundation Day”, and “ANA Day”. 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 Years 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 had 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.
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 of Australia, unless it falls on a weekend in which case the following Monday becomes a public holiday instead. 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.
However there is another side to the event, and that is the plight of the Indiginous people who suffered appalling treatment by whites. This has often been ignored and swept out of Australia’s history. For instance Between 1905 until the 1970s, tens of thousands of children of Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander descent were forcibly removed from their families by the government and church missions in a bid to assimilate them into white society. They are known as the ‘Stolen Children’, and the policy is considered one of the worst atrocities of Australian history. There have also been moves to redesign the flag to reflect the Indiginous culture and Uluru has gone back to being called Uluru.