Australia’s National Day

IPA: Australians Love Australia Day! | New Life Narrabri

Many Australians consider January 26 with national pride, flying the Australian flag from businesses, homes and cars. They attend festivals, fireworks, community and sporting events or gather for family barbecues at homes, parks or on the beach.

However, there is also a growing movement of people who feel the holiday must change date or theme on account of the terrible impact of colonisation on the way of life of indigenous people – who called Australia home for tens of thousands of years before European settlers arrived nearly 230 years ago.

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The main festivities for Australia Day always occurs on 26 January even if the public holiday is moved to an alternate date. Many people become citizens of Australia on Australia Day at Citizenship Ceremonies across the nation. It is also the day that the Australian Government awards the Order of Australia to selected Australians, which is ‘an Australian society of honour for according recognition to Australian citizens and other persons for achievement or meritorious service’.

As a nation, Australia had a painful start. Under British rule it was initially intended as a penal colony. The ruling classes in 18th century England considered criminals to be incapable of rehabilitation. Their method of reprimand was to segregate convicts from the general population.

In October 1786, Arthur Phillip was appointed captain of the HMS Sirius, and assigned to transport British convicts to the continent. His mission was to establish an agricultural work camp. Captain Phillip commanded a fleet of 11 ships and 1,500 passengers, including 700 prisoners. After an 8-month journey, they reached Sydney Cove.

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It was 26 January 1788 when the First Fleet landed in Sydney Cove. Between 18 and 20 January, the First Fleet of 11 ships sailed into Botany Bay to set up a penal colony there but the bay proved to be unsuitable. Captain Phillip took a team north and named the area on the south shore of Port Jackson as Sydney Cove. The formal establishment of the colony occurred two weeks later on 7 February.

The first colony got off to a rocky beginning as the soil was poor and the settlers didn’t know how to farm. The settlement was on the verge of starvation for several years. However, under the able leadership of Captain Phillip, the people persevered. By 1792, when he returned to England, the outpost was prospering. In 1818, 26 January was declared a legal holiday, marking the 30th anniversary of the British settlement in Australia.

Over the next 80 years, the population steadily increased, and five additional self-governing colonies were created. On January 1, 1901, all six colonies united to form the Commonwealth of Australia.

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