The modern-day national holiday in Australia is an occasion to celebrate the country’s uniqueness and enforce patriotic values. Over the years, the holiday has been called differently, from Foundation Day through ANA Day, Anniversary Day and First Landing. Its date is set to January 26, because it commemorates the founding of the first Australian colony by Captain Arthur Philip on that date in 1788. According to many Australians, however, this is not a historic event that the country should boast with. The Aboriginal communities have given their own names to the holiday: Invasion Day, Day of Mourning, Survival Day, or Aboriginal Sovereignty Day, all implying that the native peoples were colonized and robbed of their land and freedom. Thus, the most important day in Australia is in fact a yearly controversy.
January 26, 1788 is only a symbolic date for the creation of New South Wales colony, since it actually came to existence on February 7. It was during the day in January, however, that Captain Philip first arrived at Port Jackson, NSW, and claimed the found land in the name of King George III. Initial celebrations of the holiday were held by the British immigrants, mostly convicts, who rejoiced at the prosperity of the colony at the break of the 19th century. After a twenty-year anniversary was observed, it was not until another ten years, in 1818, that the Governor Lachlan Macquarie granted the government employees a day off. Only during its fiftieth anniversary was Foundation Day proclaimed as the first public holiday in New South Wales. By 1888, the remaining colonies celebrated their respective natal holidays; on the centennial, though, all but the Tasmanian capital recognized January 26 as Anniversary Day. The name was first changed into “Australia Day” in South Australia in 1910, and by 1935, every region in the country apart from NSW adopted it. In 1936, a Celebrations Council came into existence in order to coordinate the festivities during the 1938 Australia Day. Within the next eight years, NSW’s name of the holiday would yield to the other states and territories. 1988 was the year of great celebration in Sydney, including a reenactment of the First Landing, but only in 1994 did the Australian government establish the holiday as public and national.
On this day there are the prominent Sydney boat races, there is the “Australia Day in the City” event in Adelaide, and many other popular festivities organized by the National Australia Day Council all around the country. What the Aboriginal communities propose is to celebrate the fact that their culture survived through the worst tragedy in their history. More and more events embrace this idea, like the People’s March in Melbourne, which emphasizes the country’s multiculturalism. The holiday’s focus gradually shifts from the celebration of colonization to the creation of an occasion for all Australians. In 2013, for the first time, the two flags – Australian and Aboriginal – were displayed beside each other on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Apart from celebrations and protests, January 26 has also another tradition: most citizenship ceremonies are observed, though it is a public holiday and most government institutions are closed. In addition, post offices and schools do not open, but many shops do. The employees working on that day need to be rewarded with a higher salary. Australia Day marks the largest holiday celebration in the country. If it falls on a weekend, the next regular work day is free. A great majority of the country’s citizens take part in the colorful and loud festivities.