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 the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove 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 members of 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”, “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 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 created however 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.
The 150th anniversary of British settlement in Australia in 1938 was widely celebrated. Preparations began in 1936 with the formation of a Celebrations Council. 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. 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
During the Bicentennial year In 1988, the celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet was organised on a large scale, 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.
Since 1988, participation in Australia Day has increased, and in 1994 all states and territories began to celebrate a unified public holiday on the actual day for the first time. Events to mark the occasion included Outdoor concerts, community barbecues, sports competitions, festivals and fireworks which were 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. Various other music festivals are also held on Australia Day, such as the Big Day Out, and the Australia Day Live Concert which is televised nationally. For many years an international cricket match has been held on Australia Day at the Adelaide Oval. These matches have included both Test matches and One Day Internationals.
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 and the traditional International Cricket match played at the Adelaide Oval. Featuring the People’s March and the Voyages Concert, Melbourne’s events focus strongly on the celebration of multiculturalism. Despite a drop in attendance in 2010, but with audiences still estimated at 400,000, 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 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.
The official Australia Day Ambassador Program supports celebrations in communities across the nation by ecouraging 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. Many Australians reflect on history and future fairly equally on Australia Day. Many agreed that history is the most important thing to think about on Australia Day and many look towards the future”.
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. Although Many Australians’ also feel it is important to recognise the place which Australia’s indigenous people and culture” hold in their national identity and celebrate cultural diversity as part of Australia Day celebrations. 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 Indigenous Australian events are now included. However, since at least 1938,the date of Australia Day has also been marked by Indigenous Australians, and those sympathetic to their cause, mourning what they see as the invasion of their land by Europeans and protesting its celebration as a national holiday. These groups sometimes refer to 26 January as “Invasion Day” or “Survival Day” and advocate that the date should be changed.
Australia Day 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 the 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