January 26 marks a historic day in Australia. This was when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived with eleven convict ships in tow and took formal possession of the Colony of New South Wales in 1788.
This event and the raising of the British flag at Port Jackson signaled the start of the British Colony in Australia. Captain Phillip then rose to become the Governor of New South Wales.
In 1818, 30 years after the colony was established, the Governor declared this Day a holiday for government workers, but it was limited to just that year. Sporting events such as horseracing were the norm for celebrating this Day in the 1820s and regattas (a sporting event that involves boat races) took over in 1830.
Fifty years later, in 1838, ‘Foundation Day’ was declared Australia’s first public holiday in New South Wales. Progressing to 1936, the now prevalent name ‘Australia Day’ was accepted by all territories aside from New South Wales, which later agreed to become a part of this after an agreement was signed in 1946 between the Commonwealth and Government to unify this historic celebration and adopted the term “Australia Day.”
Despite the joy and celebration that surrounds this Day, there is also tension associated with it. For Australia’s indigenous population, which accounts for about 3% of the country’s population, January 26 isn’t a day to be merry, but a day they lost sovereign rights to their land, culture, and traditions, and everything in between. A period that saw the massacre of aboriginals by British Settlers and invaders.
In an article released by Creative spirits on Australian Day, it defines Australia day as:
“A date whose only significance is to mark the coming to Australia of the white people in 1788. It’s not a date that is particularly pleasing for Aborigines, the British were armed to the teeth and from the moment they stepped foot on our country, the slaughter and dispossession of Aborigines began.”- Aboriginal Activist Micheal Mansell.
In recent years, January 26 Day has been referred to by other names such as Invasion Day, Survival Day, Day of Mourning, etc. It remains a debate whether this Day should be canceled or changed, especially when Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and Non-indigenous Australians see this Day from diverse perspectives.
Recently, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has spoken against the omission made by cricket bosses who had the term ‘Australia Day’ removed from promotions for professional matches insisting it was a day of ‘mourning’ for indigenous players. Prime Minister responded by saying:
“It is all about acknowledging how far we have come. When those 12 ships turned up in Sydney all those years ago, it wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either. I think what that Day, to this, demonstrates is how far we’ve come as a country, and I think that’s why it’s important to mark it in that way.”
The controversy surrounding this Day lives on as citizens of Australia mark this Day in ways that they believe to be significant to them.