On January 26, 1788, the First Fleet of 11 ships from Great Britain arrived at Port Jackson, which now forms Sydney Harbour. The First Fleet was led by Captain Arthur Philip. He established the Colony of New South Wales, the first penal colony in Australia. By 1808, January 26 was being celebrated as “First Landing Day” or “Foundation Day” with drinking and merriment (and not much has changed!).
Thirty years after the arrival of the First Fleet, in 1818, the Governor of Australia ordered a 30-gun salute, hosted a dinner ball at Government House and gave government employees a holiday. In the following years, employees of banks and other organisations were also given holidays. In the following decades, horse racing and regattas were popular activities on January 26.
In 1838, Foundation Day was Australia’s first public holiday. It was also the occasion of the first public celebrations of the founding of Australia. The shores of Sydney Harbour were crowded and there was a firework display. By 1888, January 26 had become known as ‘Anniversary Day’ was celebrated in all colonies except Adelaide. In 1888, the centenary of the arrival of the First Fleet was celebrated with ceremonies, exhibitions, banquets, regattas, fireworks and the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria.
The colonies of Australia federated to become a single Commonwealth in 1901. That year, Australia’s first Prime Minister, the Right Honourable Sir Edmund Barton announced an international competition to design a flag for the new nation. It attracted 32,823 entries. Five near-identical entries were awarded equal first and the designers shared the £200 prize.
The Aussie Flag was flown for the first time in September 1901 at the Exhibition Building in Melbourne, the seat of the federal government at the time. It can be flown every day of the year. As the nation’s foremost symbol, the flag should be used with respect and dignity.
The Aboriginal flag was designed by Harold Thomas, a Luritja man from Central Australia. It was created as a symbol of unity and national identity for Aboriginal people during the land rights movement of the early 1970s.
By 1935, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, where it was still called Anniversary Day. In 1938, large-scale celebrations were held. These included a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet, which did not mention the convict status of many of the passengers on these ships. The re-enactment included the removal of a group of Aborigines. Shortly before the celebrations, a group of Aboriginal activists arranged a “Day of Mourning”. They used this to campaign for citizenship and equal rights for Aborigines.
From 1946, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states. However, the public holiday was moved to the Monday nearest to January 26 to create a long weekend. Since 1994, the Australia Day public holiday has been on January 26 in all states and territories.
The anniversary of the first permanent European settlement in Australia is not a cause for celebration for all citizens. Indigenous Australians often feel that the celebrations on Australia Day exclude them and their culture, which was thriving for thousands of years before the arrival of the First Fleet.
Notwithstanding, it is an opportunity for ALL Australians to come together to celebrate their country and culture (most at BBQs & picnics). There are reflections on the achievements of the nation and explorations of way to make the country even better in the future.
Australia Day is a public holiday in all states and territories. All schools and post offices are closed. Some public transport services do not operate and others run a reduced service. Stores are often open, but most have reduced opening hours.
In some places, particularly Lake Burley Griffin, spectacular public fireworks displays are held. In addition, the Australian of the Year Awards are presented. These are awards for Australians who have made an outstanding contribution to their country or community.
So I’m off to celebrate but here are some interesting facts:
- The Australian Coat Of Arms has on it a kangaroo and an emu. The reason for this is that the kangaroo and the emu cannot go backwards but can only walk forwards.
- Australia is the sixth largest country after Russia, Canada, China, the United States of America and Brazil. However our population remains relatively small at just over 20 million.
- Australia is the only country that is a continent. The mainland is the largest island and the smallest, flattest continent on Earth.
- Australia is the driest, inhabited continent on earth. The only continent drier than Australia is Antarctica.
- The interior has one of the lowest rainfalls in the world and about three-quarters of the land is arid or semi-arid.
- More than 40 000 years before the arrival of European settlers, there were an estimated 300,000 indigenous Australians living on the continent.
- There are many claims to the fact that the first European settlers in Australia drank more alcohol per head of population than any other community in the history of mankind.
- Australia, founded by convicts. The homicide rate is in Australia is 1.8 per 100,000 of population. The United States was founded by religious zealots. It’s homicide rate is 6.3 per 100,000. Almost 400% greater than Australia.
- About 160,000 convicts arrived over 80 years. That compares with free settler arrivals as high as 50 000 a year.
- Australia’s first police force was a band of 12 of the most well-behaved Convicts.
- About 30% of the Australian population was born overseas
- Aborigines, the indigenous people, now only make up 1.5 % of the population. There are no Tasmanian full-blooded aboriginals left.
- Bob Hawke, a prime minister of Australia, became inserted into the Guinness Book of Records by drinking 2.5 pints of beer in just 11 seconds in 1954 (it happened before he became PM)
- Prime Minister Harold Holt went for a swim at Cheviot Beach, near Portsea on 17th December 1967, and was never seen again. The event has been referred to as ‘the swim that needed no towel’.
- If you happen to be near The Great Barrier Reef and need to mail a letter or a postcard, you can. There is a mailbox located on the reef and uses the only stamp licensed by The Great Barrier Reef.
- Much of the world’s opals come from Australia, which is usually anywhere from 85 to 95% at any given time.
- Australia was the second country to give women the vote.
- When a specimen of the platypus (a native Australian animal) was first sent to England, it was believed the Australians had played a joke by sewing the bill of a duck onto a rat.
- The name Australia comes from the Latin Terra Australis Incognito which means the Unknown Southern Land.
Australia Day Cards by http://www.chronicallycreative.net
Happy Australia Day to everybody – you should all go out and have a beer to celebrate!