Why we celebrate
Australia Day, 26 January, is the biggest day of celebration in the country. It is a national public holiday in Australia, commemorating the founding on 26 January 1788 of the colony of New South Wales, a day to reflect on what we can be proud of in our nation.
Australia Day is a day of passion, participation, consideration and celebration.
Contemporary Australia Day celebrations reflect the diverse society and landscape of the nation, and are marked by community and family events, reflections on Australian history, official community awards, and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new immigrants into the Australian community.
Australians believe we are the lucky country -
and that's worth celebrating
A sense of community and an enduring Aussie spirit have helped shape our nation, which is culturally enriched through its Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the cultural diversity of the many people who live here.
An enduring spirit of mateship and fairness in a land of opportunity gives Australians reason to celebrate together on Australia Day, 26 January. This is a day of opportunity for all Australians to confirm their commitment to Australia, its people, its past and its future.
About Australia Day
Australia Day, 26 January, is a national day of celebrations where the people of Australia come together to celebrate what's great about Australia and being Australian.
Australia Day is a time to reflect upon what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation - our people, our fragile yet enduring land, our rich Indigenous culture, our great diversity, and our celebrated freedom and democracy. These characteristics have contributed to Australia's unique identity and culture, and have made it the great nation that we celebrate today.
Australia Day is celebrated across the country in all states and territories. It involves formal ceremonies including flag raisings, citizenship ceremonies and the presentation of community awards, and a variety of local events and activities ranging from damper making to thong throwing competitions to community barbeques.
History of Australia Day
On 26 January, 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip took formal possession of the colony of New South Wales and became its first Governor.
The fledging colony soon began to celebrate the anniversary of this date. Manning Clarke notes that in 1808 the "anniversary of the foundation of the colony" was observed in the traditional manner with "drinking and merriment".
The first official celebrations were held in 1818 to mark the 30th anniversary of white settlement. Governor Macquarie officiated at a thirty-gun salute during the day and a dinner ball at Government House that evening.
During the early nineteenth century the anniversary was called 'Foundation Day' and was usually marked by sporting events. Horseracing was popular in the 1820s, whilst regattas became popular in the 1830s.
One of these, the Anniversary Regatta which was first held in 1836, is still held on Sydney Harbour on 26 January each year. Now called the Australia Day Regatta it is the oldest continuous regatta in the world.
A growing sense of patriotism was also being expressed in other ways. In 1824 Charles Tompson, reputed to be our first Australia-born poet, composed Wild Notes from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel.
Fifty years after Phillip landed Australia's first public holiday was announced to celebrate Foundation Day 1838. The inaugural holiday became an annual event and has continued to be held on or around 26 January.
Unlike previous years, when the celebrations were mainly private, the 1838 celebrations were a 'day for everyone' with the harbour foreshores crowded and a cracker display for the people.
By 1888, gold had been found and Australia's population had grown to nearly three million. All the colonial capitals, except Adelaide, proclaimed 'Anniversary Day' a public holiday and celebrations took place throughout the individual colonies.
The centenary was marked by ceremonies, parades, exhibitions, fireworks, banquets, church services and regattas. An estimated 50,000 people watched the Governor, Lord Carrington, unveil a statue in honour of Queen Victoria. Although the talk was of federation there was no question of the Australian people's loyalty to the mother country.
The 150th anniversary of white settlement in 1938 was marked with official ceremonies around the nation celebrating the arrival of Captain Phillip.
The show piece of the NSW celebrations was a re-enactment of Phillip's landing, complete with the deposition of a party of Aborigines. The latter group had been brought to Sydney when their city counterparts refused to participate in what they called a 'grossly theatrical re-enactment'.
Several hours before the re-enactment Aboriginal activists convened a 'Day of Mourning' conference aimed at securing citizenship and equal status for Aborigines.
Interestingly, the celebrations omitted any mention of Australia's convict roots.
Finally, in 1946, the Commonwealth Government, States and Territories agreed to observe one national day 'Australia Day' under one banner and on the same day.
During this period the celebrations continued to have a largely imperial feel consisting mainly of formal re-enactments of the First Fleet's landing.
The National Australia Day Council was formed in 1979, with state and territory councils and committees soon after. From their inception they have encouraged more 'grass roots' celebrations, working with local government authorities to promote the wider celebration of Australia Day.
However, the Australia Day public holiday was still held on the Monday closest to 26 January and to the broader community it was just another holiday.
In our bi-centenary year, 1988, the Australia Day public holiday was held around the nation on 26 January. The highlight of the many celebrations was a re-enactment of the First Fleet's trip which departed from Portsmouth on 13 May, 1987 and arrived in Australia in early January. Britain then presented the tall ship, Young Endeavour, to Australia as its bi-centennial present.
Alongside the celebrations 1988 was named a Year of Mourning for Australia's Aboriginal people, who also regarded the year as a celebration of survival. It was the most vocal Indigenous presence ever felt on 26 January.
In addition to the celebrations the bi-centennial left a legacy of tangible projects. Often funded by the Federal, State and Territory Governments these diverse and useful projects are lasting monuments to the celebrations.
Since the bi-centenary Australia Day celebrations have continued to grow in number and stature with the celebrations continuing to involve a larger and broader audience.
It was not until 1994 however, that all the states and territories endorsed the celebration of Australia Day on the actual day instead of the closest Monday. United Australia Day celebrations have been held on 26 January ever since.
The 25th day of April is an important one of recognition nationally in Australia. This is the anniversary of the first major military action fought by Australian and New Zealand forces during the First World War. The soldiers in those forces quickly became known as ANZACs, and the pride they soon took in that name endures to this day.
Australians recognise 25 April as an occasion of national commemoration.
Commemorative services are held at dawn, the time of the original landing, across the nation. Later in the day ex-servicemen and women meet and join in marches through the major cities and many smaller centres. Commemorative ceremonies are held at war memorials around the country. It is a day when Australians reflect on the many different meanings of war.