After an exhausting 250 day sail from England, Arthur Philip, commander of The First Fleet, makes landfall at Botany Bay. On board of the 11 ships of the fleet led by Philip are almost 1500 men and women, more than 700 of which – convicts. The purpose of the trip: to build a new colony where convicts from England would be shipped to.
January 26, 1788
Arthur Philip raises the British flag at Botany Bay, claiming the territory for His Majesty George III, King of Great Britain and Ireland. That day was the day when what was to become Australia as we know was born.
History Of Australia Day
26 January marks the day British sovereignty was proclaimed by Arthur Philip, leader of the First Fleet and first governor of New South Wales, over the eastern seaboard of New Holland, as was the colony known back at the time. It was not until about three decades later, in 1817, when Major-General Lachlan Macquarie, the fifth governor of NSW, recommended to the Britain’s Colonial Office to adopt the name “Australia”. And in 1824 New Holland was formally renamed.
Although the national day of Australia was not officially “Australia Day” until 1935, records of the celebration of the landing of the First Fleet date as far back as 1808. However, the first officially organised celebration was held in 1818, on the 30th anniversary of the founding of the colony. The man who declared that the day should be celebrated to commemorate the historical landing was Governor Lachlan Macquarie. The anniversary was marked at Dawes Point by a 30 gun salute, one for each year the colony had existed.
And when the colonies finally united in 1901 to form what we now know as Australia, it was the ANA (Australian Natives’ Association) that became the driving force behind promoting the observance of a national day in the entire country. Thus, in 1935 for the first time in history all Australian states were celebrating 26 January as the national holiday of the country.
But over the years the observance of the landing of the First Fleet has spurred contradiction and a lot of criticism among the community. For Aboriginal people and white activists Australia Day had become a symbol of the British colonisation and the subsequent inhumane treatment natives suffered at the hands of the Brits, as well as a symbol of the systematic exclusion of Aboriginal culture from society.
The celebration of history while ignoring it at the same time was so offensive to Aboriginal community that in 1938 the so-called Day of Mourning, an organised protest marking 150 years of “callous treatment”, was held in Sydney. Since then many such events, aiming at raising awareness for the issues of native people, have been organised.
Where Do We Stand Today?
On Australia Day most of us celebrates either by taking part in the community-organised events, or at home, with our friends and families. But January 26 must not be perceived as just another day-off in the calendar or as “that time of the year when you gather the whole family for a barbecue.”
Australia Day is much more than that. It is about the pride of being an Australian. On 26 January we should be celebrating not the first landing itself, but the long way all of us, as a nation, have come in the 227 years since that historic moment.
In spite of the contradictions and the division over the treatment of Aboriginal people that the celebration has created over the years, today we should stand united, forget our differences and celebrate not what we were, but what we are today. Because at the heart of Australia Day lay our diverse society, our notable achievements, and the bright future in front of our whole community.
Happy Australia Day fellow Aussies!