Thursday, 31 January 2013


I had to think hard to remember what Australia Day celebrated so when a friend asked me to write something about it for her blog it was a good to revisit the history and remind myself.  I have listed highlights that I found interesting and now understand my vagueness about the day.

AUSTRALIA DAY is celebrated on January 26th which is the anniversary of the official landing of the First Fleet – sent by King George lll to establish the colony of New South Wales – the first penal colony in Australia.  The American War of Independence of had closed that dumping ground for England’s excess convicts a few years before.

1788 – January 26th, Captain Arthur Philip, and a few men, rowed ashore from the HMS Supply, and took possession of the land in the name of the king.  The fleet of 11 ships had arrived in Botany Bay around the 20th of January but after realising the land there was unsuitable they sailed north to Port Jackson (Sydney Harbour). (I agree having spent a lot of time at Botany Bay as a child) Interestingly, the first man to set foot on land was actually a convict named James Ruse, who piggy-backed First Lieutenant George Johnston through the water. Johnston was given the honour of being the first officer to land.  (I wonder what happened to Ruse?)  The painting above is not correct, only one small boat went ashore, carrying mainly officers and a couple of convicts. Everyone else watched from the ship.  The flag went up in a hurry because two French ships had been seen cruising down the coast - Philip didn’t even wait for the rest of his fleet.

1808  20 years after the landing there was no official recognition of the anniversary but the date was used by immigrants, especially emancipated convicts, to celebrate their love of the land they lived in with heavy drinking from sundown on the 25th.  In the early hours of the 26th, the now brevet Major George Johnston (see above, he’s been promoted), wearing one arm in a sling, he’d fallen from is carriage earlier in the day, led men of the NSW Corps to arrest Governor William Bligh , fourth Governor of New South Wales, in what became popularly known as the ‘Rum Rebellion’, and was the only military coup in Australian history. (I always thought Bligh was one of the bad army officers, but no, it seems George Johnston, who was actually now a Lt Colonel, but didn’t know it yet, was dealing in rum, raking in money and using it to buy land. Bligh had been trying to put a stop to this. But back to the holiday….)

1818 – For the 30th anniversary Governor Lachlan Macquarie acknowledged ‘Foundation Day’ with an official celebration. He ordered a 30 gun salute, one for each year the colony had existed, and granted a holiday to Government employees.  Gradually other organisations gave their employees a holiday on the 26th.
1838  Fifty guns were fired from Dawes’ Battery and Foundation Day became Australia’s first public holiday. The previous year the first Australia Day Regatta took place on Sydney Harbour, followed by rockets and other fireworks and this became  an annual tradition – and a very suitable way to celebrate the day.

1888 –  The holiday, now called ‘Anniversary Day’, had been celebrated on different days around the country, but by 1888 all colonial capitals, except Adelaide, chose January 26th.

1938 -  January 26th had become Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, where it was still Anniversary Day for a few more years. The celebrations centred on a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet, which left out the convicts but included interaction with a group of Aborigines on the shore. For many years the day was difficult to celebrate because organisers found the involvement of convicts embarrassing.

1948 –  Australia Day had been celebrated on January 26 in all states since 1946.  Now, ‘they’ decided to move the public holiday to the nearest Monday to create a long weekend for everyone.

1988 – The celebration of 200 years since the arrival of the First Fleet saw events in all major cities, including street parties, historic re-enactments and competitions.  The National Australia Day Council had been established in 1979 – possibly the day needed its own council because it was the only holiday associated with contentious issues. We celebrated the first permanent European settlement, tainted by the fact that it was a penal colony, while indigenous Australians felt that the day excluded them and their culture so they renamed it Invasion Day and protested.  The council was to steer celebrations towards a day to celebrate everything that is great about being an Australian, rather than a day of remembrance (see 1808 above) (or a day of embarrassment).

1994 – All States and Territories celebrated Australia Day as a unified public holiday on the actual day for the first time.
2008 – 220 years after the First Fleet landing found Australia Day still a little unsettled. Suggestions to change the date to break unpopular associations were common but polls showed the people were not interested in changing the date and the Prime Ministers of the times agreed.
2013 – The 26th fell on the Saturday so for the first time since 1994 the public holiday was the 28th – a little confusing still for while some activities were held on the 26th others were planned for the 28th.  And, the Australian of the year was announced a dinner time on Friday 25th, as if they’d run out of time.
Today Australia Day is a public holiday across the country.  Most people enjoy a day off work – family gatherings – sport – shopping – barbies – the beach.  It’s also the end of the summer school holidays.
The Australian of the Year Awards are presented to Australians who have made an outstanding contribution to their country or community. Citizenship ceremonies are held to welcome immigrants who have been granted Australian citizenship. Formal celebrations on Australia Day include displaying the national flag and singing the anthem, Advance Australia Fair.  (The above info was gleaned from many websites, including Wikipedia)

And as we welcome new Aussies into our communities many young Australians are still on the far side of the world in places with strange sounding names like, Kandahar, Dubai and Tarin Kot. God bless them.
Writing this in 2013, our long weekend has been a very windy and soggy three or four days.  Cyclone Oswald went crazy and shot out random weather patterns that included tornados in Bundaberg, up to gale force winds along the Qld coast and very heavy rain.  The storm (weather pattern) moved south, tracking the coastline, leaving behind uprooted trees, overturned and floating cars, flash flooding, wild surf and closed beaches, damaged homes, power outages and frightened wet people.  This was followed by flooding in the river system and areas that were under water two years ago, in the big January floods, were under again.  As the long weekend closed the system moved onto NSW.
And that reminds me of a mental note I made relating to the time line above. After seeing an odd comment on facebook I thought it might be necessary to explain to some people that the setting up of the colony of New South Wales does not refer to the state of that name, it was originally the name of the whole colony, the New colony in the South, which someone thought reminded them of Wales – New South Wales. As the colony developed, population and distance required easier to govern areas so smaller colonies and then states and territories were created and the original colony shrank and became the state of NSW.  That explanation is just off the top of my head but I think you’ll get the idea.
 This is not our national flag, it’s just a tea towel that I like, printed with and interesting graffiti style flag.     My little contribution to Australia Day 2013.

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.

1 comment:

  1. This piece on Australia Day has been posted on another blog, added to this one and moved from one page to another on different dates - just an explanation of why it might pop up in different areas. It was a trial run on a new blog, but I wanted to keep the information when I could find it, after all, it took time to put together.


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