Every year, on 26 January, families gather, friends go on picnics, and thousands of spectators enjoy the many parades. They are celebrating Australia Day, though, depending on who you talk to, the holiday carries a different name. Some know it as Foundation Day, while others call it Survival Day. There are several indigenous groups that insist on calling the holiday Invasion Day. But what is it, exactly? What event is celebrated, and why does this date hold several different names?
The holiday is observed in memory of the landing of the British First Fleet in what’s today known as New South Wales. On the same date, 26 January 1788, Arthur Philip raised the flag of Great Britain, claiming the land in the name of King George III. Philip was a Navy officer, and later became the first governor of New South Wales, which was established officially in February of the same year.
The trip itself served to found a penal colony. Eleven ships, carrying around 1500 people, traveled for three months in search of land. In spite of numerous difficulties, the death toll was abnormally low.
How Is It Celebrated?
These days, Australia day celebrates the diversity of all constituents, so it is not uncommon for the citizenship ceremonies to occur during Australia Day. In fact, it has become a tradition to grant new Australians citizenship on this day.
Families spend time together, there are large-scale community barbecues, fireworks, and outdoor concerts, though the term ‘concert’ is an understatement. It would be more accurate to say that there are music festivals in celebration of the day. There are also several sports competitions, including boat races.
One of the biggest ceremonies of the day, the Order of Australia awards, occurs on this day as well. The Order of Australia is an order of chivalry, and there are five levels of the order. Other special awards are also given to exceptional citizens, like the Australian of the Year.
There has been a lot of talk over the years to move the date of Australia’s national holiday. The reason behind it is the fact that there are Aboriginal groups who are more than uncomfortable celebrating the day the settling convicts claimed their land. They have dubbed this date Invasion Day. Others, like the National Indigenous Television, believe the date should be referred to as Survival Day, as a symbol of the indigenous cultures surviving to this day.
Besides moving the date, there is a growing trend of districts refusing to hold citizenship ceremonies on this day. Additionally, these districts no longer refer to the date as Australia Day. They opt, instead, to hold events to promote Aboriginal culture.
Ever since 1938, the Aboriginal Australians have been holding protests on this date, calling it the Day of Mourning. The original Day of Mourning was organized by the Aborigines Progressive Association and it served not only as a protest but also as a demand for full citizenship and equal treatment.