It’s kind of a contentious subject and for a lot of reasons. It all started in 1788. That was when the First Fleet arrived. Eleven British ships had been sent to establish a penal colony, just eight years after Captain Cook landed. A necessary step, at least, that’s how the British viewed it after they lost their hold on the 13 colonies North America. Of course, by this point, First Australians had inhabited the land for over 60,000 years.
There was no official date that was celebrated. At least, not until 1808. That’s when the 26th of January became the day for unofficial celebrations. It wasn’t until 1818, 30 years after the First Landing, that the day itself was given an official celebration.
1838, the 50th anniversary, saw the second regatta held to celebrate. By this time, it had transformed from toasting the king to a celebration of the people.
Those were just the early twists and turns of Australia Day.
The idea behind making it a national holiday didn’t come until 1935. That’s when the rest of the territories and states of Australia joined Sydney’s celebrations. Though, it wouldn’t officially become a public holiday everywhere until 1994. Over the years, the protests have grown – with First Australians pointing to the cost of British colonisation and what it meant for their lives. As well as how the convicts that had been used to settle the land were being forced out of the celebrations.
There has been plenty of conversation about whether the date should be changed and what it could be changed to. Ultimately, the majority of Australians understand that the day itself presents mixed feelings for everyone, and not all of those are positive. Which is why steps have been made in recent years to ensure that everyone is invited to participate. Including First Australians is a way to remind all Australians that the 26th of January means different things to different people.
The different feelings and meanings of the 26th shouldn’t discourage you from discourse. They are a thought-provoking challenge for all of us to question our thinking and misconceptions about others. It’s the right time to do it as well since 2020 will welcome the 250th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s landing in 1770.