Australia Day in Question

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2009

15 Pages, Grade: 2,0




1. History of Foundation Day

2. Australia Day Celebrations

3. The Impact of British Settlement

4. Day of Mourning

5. Reconciliation

6. Indigenous Australians Today

7. Australia Day Date Change

8. Australia Day Today


Works Cited: Electronic Sources


Every January the Australian population celebrates its national day - Australia Day - with breathtaking fireworks and sumptuous barbecues. However, this public holiday is accompanied by numerous protests by the indigenous community of Australia. For the majority of Indigenous Australians who have long suffered under colonial domination, Australia Day is not a day of joy, but rather a day of political and cultural struggle.

Since the 19th century the Indigenous Australians - the communities of Aboriginals and Torres Straight Islanders - have fought hard for their equality within the Australian community. However, the process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-indigenous Australians began only in earnest in the 1960s and the Indigenous are still at a disadvantage compared to their non- indigenous counterparts today.

There is a lively debate about the pros and cons of Australia Day. Some Australians wish to change the date of Australia Day in order to advance the process of reconciliation, while the Australia Day National Committee appeals to all Australians to celebrate Australia Day and reflect on the Australian history.

The public holiday Australia Day, also known as Foundation Day or First Landing Day, is celebrated on January 26th. On this day in 1788 Captain Arthur Phillip, the commander of the First Fleet1 from Great Britain and the first governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove to establish a penal colony. "The raising of the Union Jack there symbolized British occupation of the eastern half of the continent claimed by Captain James Cook on 22 August in 1770" (Kwan). In the following years, Sydney immigrants, especially convicts or their descendants, commemorated the colony's beginning with formal dinners to celebrate their land. The first official celebrations were held in 1818. "Governor Lachlan Macquarie (...) made the thirtieth anniversary of the day in 1818 a public holiday, thirty guns counting out the years of British civilization, a tradition Macquarie's successors continued" (ibid.). In the early 19th century, sporting events such as horse races and regattas were incorporated into Australia's national day.

In the beginning, Australian colonies like Victoria or Queensland had their own Foundation Day anniversaries. However, January 26 gradually became a national celebration from 1888 onwards, when representatives from each state went to Sydney to celebrate the 100th anniversary. The media reaction to the celebration of the 26 January was mixed. For example, the "Advertiser" pointed out that "New South Wales, though 'senior', was not 'the parent colony' of all the others, which had their own 'local memories and historic dates'. That day was not 'in any sense', it insisted, 'the anniversary of a common birthday' because 'the idea of Australia' was too closely linked to 'the unpleasing circumstances of its early occupation'. (qtd. in Kwan) Highlights of the centennial celebration in Sydney were the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria2, the opening of Centennial Park, a great banquet for leading citizens and the Sydney Regatta. Across Australia the celebrations usually centred on sports (like cricket matches, yacht and horse races), picnics, and fireworks at night. By 1888 the white population of the Australian continent had increased extensively, while the number of Aboriginals declined from at least 750.000 in 17883 to 67.000 ( "When questioned about what was being planned for the Aborigines, Parkes [the Premier of New South Wales] retorted, 'and remind them that we have robbed them?'" (qtd. in Kwan). Foundation Day commemorates the beginning of colonisation of the Australian continent and was celebrated by Australian natives, native-born children of the immigrants, only.

British convict ships.

The British sovereign since 1837.

Aboriginal people were not counted in the census until after 1967 (Indigenous Australians).

On January 1st, 1901, the six formerly separated colonies of Australia4 formed a federation and under the Constitution of Australia they became states of the Commonwealth of Australia. The colonies chose to be self-governing within the British Empire. "They were Australian, but they were also British. [...] They belonged together because they shared not only a continent but also a British background. A small white population of almost four million in a large continent far from Britain, Australians depended on the Royal Navy" (ibid.). At first, the city of Melbourne became the interim federal capital. However, because of a rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne, Canberra was selected as the nation's capital in 1908.

In 1930, the Australian Native's Association, which was formed in 1871 as a society to provide medical and funeral benefits to Australian natives5, started "a campaign to have 26 January celebrated throughout Australia as Australia Day on a Monday, making a long weekend" (ibid.). One year later, the Victorian government agreed and the remaining states followed by 1935. Since 1988, Australia Day is generally celebrated on the actual day, January 26th. If the day falls on a weekend, the public holiday takes place the following Monday.

The celebrations of the bicentennial were centred in Sydney. The highlight was the historic re-enactment of the First Fleet's arrival in Sydney Harbour, a year after its departure from Portsmouth. The tall ship 'Young Endeavour' was presented by Britain. About two million people watched the extraordinary spectacle.

2. Australia Day Celebrations

Australia Day is the biggest nationwide public holiday celebrated in Australia. Festivities include various official events such as concerts, fireworks and parades. People often dress up in the colours of the Australian flag: red, white and blue. They spend their holiday attending local events like regattas, community barbecues or musical events, or watching cricket or tennis games. Some people go to museums to learn about Australia's history or visit the capital city Canberra. (wikiHowcom)

Numerous awards are presented on Australia Day, such as the Order of Australia award or the Australia Day Achievement Medallion. The most prestigious accolade is the Australian of the Year Award which is announced by the Australian Prime Minister on the eve of Australia Day. Since 1960,

New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia.

The term "natives" describes the native-born of European descent.

the award has honoured "Australians that are demonstrating excellence in their field, contributing significantly to their community and the nation and who are inspirational role models" (Australian of the Year Awards). The award usually goes to scientists, sportsmen, politicians, environmentalists or human rights activists. In 2009, indigenous rights campaigner Professor Mick Dodson was named as Australian of the Year by the current Prime Minister of Australia, Kevin Rudd. Dodson, Australia's first Aboriginal social justice commissioner, "has spent his career tirelessly campaigning for Indigenous people to improve their lives through reconciliation, understanding and education" (ABC News Online: Dodson named Australian of the Year). The professor, along with many others, voiced concerns about the date of Australia Day and explained that he had to seriously consider before he decided to accept the nomination for the award. Dodson said: "I too share the concern of my indigenous brothers and sisters about the date. To many indigenous Australians, in fact most indigenous Australians, it really reflects the day in which our world came crashing down" (Maslen).

For many Indigenous Australians, Australia's national day represents the date they were conquered and their lands occupied. "That the day might symbolise invasion, dispossession and death to many Aboriginal people was a concept alien to the average Australian until even the latter half of the 20th century" (

3. The Impact of British Settlement

The beginning of European settlement separated Indigenous Australians from their land and laid the foundations for generations of social, economic and health disadvantages. When in 1770 Captain James Cook claimed the east coast of Australia it was one of the regions heaviest populated by Aboriginals. The British settlers "took the view that Indigenous Australians were nomads with no concept of land ownership, who could be driven off land wanted for farming or grazing and who would be just as happy somewhere else" ("History of Indigenous Australians"). However, most indigenous communities were semi-nomadic, "moving in a regular cycle over a defined territory, following seasonal food sources and returning to the same places at the same time each year" (ibid.). In addition, those communities had a deep spiritual and cultural connection to the land. Leaving the traditional areas meant the loss of cultural and spiritual practices, which were necessary to the cohesion and well-being of the community.


Excerpt out of 15 pages


Australia Day in Question
University of Leipzig  (Institut für Anglistik)
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Australia Day, Indigenous Australians, Aboriginals, Native Australians, Foundation Day, Australian Colonies, British Settlement, Day of Mourning, Stolen Generation, Aboriginal Civil Right, Reconciliation, Mick Dodson, Kevin Rudd
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Clara Schwarz (Author), 2009, Australia Day in Question, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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