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Australia Day: History and Milestones

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The 26th of January is a fundamental date in Australia’s rich history and as we commemorate it this 2021, let us look back at the important dates and events that made the Great Southern Land what it is today.

1700s: Discovery and Inauguration

Long before the European explorers arrived, the Great Southern Land is already being occupied by the indigenous people called the Aboriginal Australians.

The serene living of the Aboriginals who managed to develop a rich and complex culture and lifestyle was then unexpectedly interrupted when the European explorers led by Captain James Cook, a British explorer, navigator and cartographer, landed at Botany Bay in 1770.

 Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Aboriginal_Australian_women_and_children,_Maloga,_N.S.W.jpg 

Just eighteen years later, Captain Arthur Phillip of the Royal Navy and the first Governor of New South Wales, raised the British flag at Sydney Cove which marks the inauguration of the colony. 

Photo source: https://www.britannica.com/biography/Arthur-Phillip

1800s: Foundation and Celebration

In 1804, 26 January has been officially referred to as the First Landing Day or Foundation Day; and in Sydney, people would celebrate this day by drinking and later on anniversary dinners.

Thirteen years later, Captain Matthew Flinders, circumnavigator of the continent, recommended to Governor Macquarie to name the continent “Australia” which he then accepted. The following year, Governor Macquarie declared the 26 January as an official public holiday.

Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Australian_Federation_Sesqui-Centenary_celebrations_063992.jpg

In 1888, New South Wales leaders together with the representatives from Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand all came together in Sydney to celebrate the centenary of the Foundation Day. What started to be a sole celebration of NSW has eventually become a continent-wide one.

1900s: War and Freedom

In 1901, The Commonwealth of Australia was established with Melbourne being the interim federal capital. During this time, Edmund Barton also served as the first Prime Minister of Australia. Eventually, when the city of Canberra was founded in 1911, it was then named as the capital.

When World War 1 began in 1914, Australia fought on the side of the allies and Great Britain. 30,000 Australians served; 60,000 were killed, and 165,000 were wounded during this war. Concurrently, Australian soldiers took part in the Gallipoli Campaign in Turkey.  

Photo source: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/C53724

In 1930, The Australian Natives' Association in Victoria proposed to make entire Australia celebrate the 26 January as Australia Day on a Monday, making a long weekend. The campaign was immediately approved and adopted by The Victorian government in 1931 which was followed by other states and territories four years later.

Meanwhile, as the Sesquicentenary is commemorated in Sydney by the state premiers, the leaders of Aboriginal people of Australia met for a Day of Mourning where they protested at their mistreatment by white Australians and sought full citizen rights. It was only in 1960 when Australia granted citizenship to Aboriginals which allowed them to vote in federal elections in 1962.

Photo source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bathurst_Island_men.jpg

In 1984, Australians halted to be British subjects and on the same year, Advance Australia Fair replaced God Save the Queen as the national anthem. Not so long after these events, Australia has fully acquired its independence from the United Kingdom in 1986.

The celebration of Australia Day on 26 January has been fully established in 1994.

2000s: Present Day

At present, 26 January has become a more significant date in the national calendar, celebrated as Australia Day. As a matter of fact, 4 out of 5 Australians observe this day as “more than just a day-off” and each year, around 16,000 people would choose 26 January as the official date to become new citizens.

Photo source: https://www.dpc.sa.gov.au/

Australia Day is a day to reflect, respect and celebrate the Australian spirit and the best of this country – our mateship, our sense of community and our resilience.

In 2021, we also pay tribute to our heroic frontline workers, who keep standing up to the challenges of these extraordinary times.

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