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Australia Day, also previously 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 at Sydney Cove in 1788, the hoisting of the British flag there, and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia.

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 Yearmarker awards, along with an address from the Prime Minister.

Although it was not known as Australia Day until over a century later, records of celebrations on 26 January date back to 1808, with Governor Lachlan Macquarie having held the first official celebration of the formation of New South Walesmarker 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 Australians, particularly historians. There have been significant protests from and on behalf of the Indigenous Australian community. Many 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. In light of these concerns, proposals to change the date of Australia Day to other dates have been made.


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 Baymarker on the coast of New South Walesmarker, 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. The Fleet arrived between 18 and 20 January 1788, but Captain Phillip found Botany Bay unsuitable and on 26 January in the Supply he proceeded 12 kilometres northwards to Port Jacksonmarker, which he declared "the finest harbour 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. The British Flag was raised in the name of King George III of Great Britain. Those attending the ceremony were Phillip and some officers and marines from the Supply. The remainder of that ship's company and the convicts observed the ceremony from on board the ship. By the afternoon of 26 January, the remainder of the fleet had arrived from Botany Bay and was at anchor in or near Sydney Cove.

Australia Day Picnic, Brisbane, 1908
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 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 Annandalemarker, 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 Pointmarker and gave government workers a holiday – a tradition that was soon followed by banks and other public offices. In 1888, all colonial capitals except Adelaidemarker celebrated 'Anniversary Day'. In 1910, South Australiamarker adopted Australia Day, followed by Victoriamarker 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. 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.

200 year anniversary

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 Housemarker and at many other public venues, art and literary competitions, historic re-enactments, and the opening of the Powerhouse Museummarker 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 Portsmouthmarker a year earlier taking part.

Since 1988 Australia Day has been celebrated on the actual day, 26 January. If it falls on a weekend, the public holiday is on the Monday, but the official celebrations still occur on 26 January.


Perth's Australia Day celebration attracted 500,000 people in 2006.
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, and parades are common. The Australia Day Achievement Medallion is awarded to citizens based on excellence in both government and non-government organisations. Air Force aerial displays are held in some capital cities, and firework displays occur each year in many Australian cities and towns. In Sydneymarker, races are held, such as a ferry race, tall ships race and a surfing race across the harbour. 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 Yearmarker 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 Ovalmarker. Prior to that, a Test match usually started at the Adelaide Oval on Australia Day.


For some Australians, particularly Indigenous Australians, Australia Day has become a symbol for adverse effects of British settlement on Australia's indigenous people. 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. The anniversary is also known 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 not been completely wiped out.

In response, official celebrations have tried to include indigenous people, holding ceremonies such as the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, which was held in Sydney in 2006 and honoured the past and celebrated the present; it involved Indigenous Australians and the Governor of New South Wales.

Invasion Day

In January 1988, various Indigenous people of Australia made a concerted effort to promote an awareness among other Australians of their presence, their needs, and their desire that there should be communication, reconciliation and co-operation over the matter of land rights. To this purpose, during January, they set up a highly-visible Tent Embassymarker at a shoreside location at a point called Mrs Macquarie's Chairmarker adjacent to the Sydney Royal Botanic Gardensmarker. The embassy, consisting of several large marquees and smaller tents, was manned by a group of Aboriginal people from Eveleigh Street, Redfern, and was organised with the co-operation of the local council's department of parks and gardens. It became a gathering place for Aboriginal people from all over Sydney. One of the aims of the embassy was to be seen by the many thousands of Sydneysiders whom the organisers claimed did not know, and rarely even saw, any Aboriginal people.

'Invasion Day' has been widely used to describe the alternative Indigenous observance of Australia Day. Although some Indigenous Australians celebrate Australia Day, Invasion Day protests occur almost every year.

Suggested changes to the date

The first post-Apology era Share the Spirit music festival, in 2009.
Due to the controversy relating to 'Invasion Day', and the perceived inappropriateness of celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet, there have been suggestions to change the date of Australia Day. As early as 1957, 1 January was suggested as a possible alternative day, to commemorate the Federation of Australia. In 1902, the year after federation, 1 January was named 'Commonwealth Day'. However, New Year's Day was already a public holiday, and Commonwealth Day did not gather much support.

Some have suggested making Anzac Day, 25 April, Australia's national day. However, many war veterans believe that Anzac Day is their day, and it is also a public holiday in New Zealandmarker, Cook Islandsmarker, Niuemarker, Samoamarker and Tongamarker. The date of the Eureka Stockade, 3 December, has also been suggested, but has not gathered significant support.

The date 9 May is also sometimes suggested, being not only the date on which the first Federal Parliament was opened in Melbournemarker in 1901, but also the date of the opening of the Provisional Parliament Housemarker in Canberramarker in 1927, and the date of the opening of the New Parliament Housemarker in 1988. Constitution Day, 9 July is also suggested as a possible alternative, commemorating the day in 1900 when Queen Victoria gave her assent to the Constitution of Australia. The anniversary of the 1967 referendum to amend the constitutional status of Aborigines, 27 May, has also been suggested as a possible alternative.

On 26 January 2009, after calls from Australian of the Year award winner Mick Dodson that the date should be changed, both the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition expressed opposition to any change.


  1. David Hill, 1788: The Brutal Truth of the First Fleet
  2. Sydney Gazette, 24 January 1818 (quoted in More Pig Bites Baby! Stories from Australia's First Newspaper, volume 2, ed. Michael Connor, Duffy and Snellgrove, 2004, ISBN 1-876631-91-0)

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