Australia Day is a g’day, mate, to celebrate all things about the Land Down Under on January 26. We join the 26,000,000 Aussies in their festivities observing the anniversary of the country’s settlement in 1788. Australia is widely deemed as a great place to live and a top travel destination. There is much to learn and appreciate about the oldest, driest and flattest inhabited continent in the world. So, read on for a fun history lesson and cool ideas for having a fantastic Australia Day!
History of Australia Day
The official national day of Australia is celebrated annually on January 26 commemorating the arrival of British ships to establish the first European settlement in Australia in 1788. These eleven ships carried over 750 criminals who had been tried and convicted in Great Britain for mostly petty crimes and then transported to penal colonies established by the British throughout the world, including North America and the Pacific. An additional 300 citizens from military and medical backgrounds made the trip to Australia, establishing the new colony.
The first celebration of British sovereignty over the eastern coast of Australia occurred in 1818. Other names used throughout the years to refer to the date of this historic event have been “Anniversary Day”, “Foundation Day” and “Australian Natives’ Association” (ANA) Day. All Australian states and territories adopted “Australia Day” as the name of the day in 1935 and then in 1994, January 26 was official marked as a public holiday.
Serving as a day of national unity and the largest annual civic event in the country, Australia Day is filled with a variety of community and family traditions, the presentation of national awards and the welcoming of new Australian citizens. However, not all Australians feel the same about the day.
Indigenous Australians have long referred to this date as “Invasion Day” or “National Day of Mourning” in protest of the arrival of the British peoples. Some still observe counter-celebrations and the holiday has sparked a controversial debate. In 1938, William Cooper, a member of the Aboriginal Progressive Association, declared it as a “Day of Mourning,” alluding to the annual re-enactment of Phillip’s landing.
On Australia Day, many Aboriginal people mourn their forebears who suffered and and perished during colonisation. Now, the day is also infused with deep respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Protests to change the date of Australia Day to respect the Indigenous Australians also take place. The Australian government has acknowledged the traditional owners of lands which Australia Day takes place, in hope that Australians from all backgrounds come together to celebrate Australia as a multicultural society.
Australia Day timeline
On January 26 1938, Aboriginal people protested against Australia Day, calling it “Day of Mourning.”
Six British colonies agreed to form the Commonwealth of Australia and their Constitution governs things impacting the nation as a whole.
Dutch explorer, Abel Tasman, mapped the northern coast of Australia and gave the continent the name New Holland.
The oldest evidence of human inhabitants on the continent.
Australia Day FAQs
What do Aussies do on Australia Day?
Australians love spectacular fireworks displays and some of the biggest and best take place on the day. Other activities include a classic beach barbeque and outdoor concerts or street parades.
How old is Australia?
This depends on the outlook. Australia became a nation in 1901, when the Australian constitution came into force, but historians estimate humans first colonised the continent over 70,000 years ago or more.
Why could Australia Day be changed?
Changing the date of the current Australia Day celebrations can provide an outlet for all Australians to come together and rejoice everything good about the nation whilst helping break down colonially embedded stigmas around Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Ways to Observe Australia Day
Congratulate the Australian of the Year
Starting in the 1960s as a way to recognize exemplary citizens throughout the country, the Australian of the Year Awards are bestowed in conjunction with Australia Day. Recipients are chosen for demonstrating excellence in their field, contributing significantly to their local community and nation, and serving as an inspirational role model to Australian citizens. The ceremony is televised so give a shout-out on social media to all the winners!
Slip a shrimp on the barbie
Falling in the middle of summer, many Australians celebrate Australia Day with a barbeque. While lamb chops, beef steaks and sausages are most common, Australian slang is popularly used. If you see a “shrimp on the barbie,” Australians will likely refer to them as prawns yet use the lingo. Other slang includes words like “thongs” for flip-flops, “brekky” for breakfast, “bogan” for rednecks, “bloody oath” for yes or true, and of course, “g’day” for hello!
Watch the Ferrython
Sydney, one of the major cities of Australia, holds a very special sight around 11 a.m. on January 26. Head over to the famous Sydney Harbor for the annual ferry race from Barangaroo Wharf to Shark Island, finishing at the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This is an iconic event with amazing views and one of the country’s most popular events. It’s even free but you can try to get tickets aboard one of the ferries for a bucket-list worthy experience.
5 Fun Australia Day Traditions
Off to the races
One of the most unique events celebrating Australia Day is the cockroach race series held in Brisbane.
Over 75% of Australians believe Australia Day is a time to recognize and celebrate the country’s rich cultural diversity.
The national colors
Many people wear green and gold on Australia day. The combination made Australia’s official national colors in 1984.
Australia Day is never complete without a jar of vegemite! The popular dark brown yeast spread sells around 22 millions jars annually, so it is a household staple in the country.
Written in 1878, “Advance Australia Fair” became the country’s national anthem in 1984 and is sung on Australia Day to express national pride.
Why We Love Australia
Kangaroos and koalas
When most people see kangaroos and koalas, they think of these animals’ native home, Australia. Both cuddly and unique, people love to watch these animals and it’s a site they hope to see when visiting the country. There are over 50 million kangaroos in Australia. That’s 2 kangaroos for every person! There are much fewer koalas with an estimated 43,000.
Over 80% of Australians live within 50 kilometers of the coast. With over 10,000 beaches throughout the country, it would take you 27 years to see them all if you visited one new beach per day. Yes, we are all jealous but this is one reason Australia makes for a fantastic vacation destination.
The “great outdoors”
We’ve already mentioned Australia’s beaches but did you know Australia also offers 550 national parks? Plus, 15 World Heritage-listed wonders? The possibilities for outside adventure are endless in Australia. Still, getting a taste of modern metropolitan life isn’t far away either, with cities such as Melbourne voted the world’s most livable city six times in a row.
Australia Day dates