Australia Day 2023
It started as a celebration of freedom for ex-convicts… it’s been known as Landing Day, Foundation Day, Invasion Day, and Survival Day… and it was only in 1994 that it became official. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to Australia Day—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.
And I’m Bryce Corbett.
On January 26, 1788, the English commander of the First Fleet of white settlers, a man called Captain Arthur Philip, raised the Union Jack – which is the British flag – in Sydney Cove – which is now better known as Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour – and claimed Australia as a colony for England.
Today, we’ll take you through HOW January 26 became the official Australia Day holiday; WHY it’s a day of celebration for some but also a difficult day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders; and WHAT different people do to mark the occasion.
Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!
So Bryce, I’ll have to admit that I was very confused when I read that it was only in 1994 that January 26 became the official Australia Day public holiday in every Australian state and territory.
I know – me too. I thought Australia Day as a public holiday had been around forever. Certainly, as far back as I can recall, Australia Day was always the day that Aussies took the day off work and got together for barbecues and picnics – or huddled around town squares in country towns or lined the foreshore of Sydney Harbour to watch the big firework displays .. but really, as a national celebration it’s only officially just under 30 years old.
Way back in the early days of European settlement – after the First Fleet had arrived – January 26 was referred to in newspapers as “Landing Day” and also “Foundation Day”. The convicts on that first fleet of ships were all sentenced to serve time in the massive jail we now know as Australia, many for pretty minor crimes, and once they finished their sentences, a lot of them decided to stay. They were known as “emancipists”—emancipation meaning freedom. They began their free lives in Australia, and they celebrated January 26 with anniversary dinners.
Ok – and today, what’s the point of Australia Day? What is it meant to be celebrating?
It’s the birthday of modern Australia, if you like. Lots of countries around the world have a national day … in France, they have the 14th of July, or Bastille Day – marking the anniversary of a revolution in 1789; in the United States, they have the 4th of July or Independence Day, marking the date that the American colonies broke away from Britain; in India – interestingly enough – they celebrate Republic Day on January 26 – same day as Australia Day – and parades are held, flags are raised and people all over the country enjoy a day off work.
But here in Australia, January 26 – marking the date the first white settlers arrived – is not exactly a cause for celebration for everyone, is it?
Let’s explore some of the reasons WHY Australia Day is a painful day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
For almost as long as there have been white settlers in Australia, Aboriginal leaders have considered January 26 as a day of mourning. That’s mourning spelled m-o-u-r-n-i-n-g, which means showing your grief and sadness.
Historians estimate Australia’s Indigenous people have lived on this land for over 40,000 years. It’s widely considered that Australia’s Aboriginal culture is the oldest continuous culture on the entire planet – which is extraordinary – and something that we should all celebrate. Of course, white settlement caused many problems for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders: the settlers brought disease; some white settlers killed the Indigenous people who were on the lands that they claimed; and sometimes, Aboriginal children were taken away from their families and never got to see them again.
So, for them to see people having barbecues, playing cricket, and celebrating the arrival of Europeans in Australia … well, that’s painful. Aboriginal people weren’t even allowed to vote in elections until 1967, even though their families had been here for 40,000 years. And there is still what the government calls a “gap” between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians.
They have a shorter life expectancy, poorer health, lower levels of education and employment. So – you know, not a whole lot for them to celebrate.
So as we look at WHAT different people do to mark the occasion of Australia Day, let’s start with the First Australians.
Some indigenous Australians call January 26 “Survival Day”. A Survival Concert has been held in Sydney since 1992 to celebrate the fact that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island culture and people have survived despite the hardships they continue to face. And there are events held all over Australia, with great music from the world’s oldest civilisation.
And on the same day, a lot of people are becoming NEW Australians, right?
That’s right! Australia is what’s called a ‘multi-cultural country’ – meaning Australians come from lots of different countries all over the world. It’s one of the great things about modern Australia. And after spending a certain number of years living here, many of those people choose to become Australian citizens.. a citizenship ceremony is when someone from another country officially becomes Australian, giving them the right to vote and have an Australian passport. So it’s a really exciting and meaningful moment in their lives.
Then there are the Australian of the Year awards…
That’s right, that also happens the night before January 26. The nominees for 2023 Australian Of The Year are up on the award website – I’ll pop a link in your episode notes. The winner is the person who is felt to have contributed the most to positive change in Australia, and the judges will have to choose from people like Craig Foster, the former Socceroos player who is now an anti-racism and human rights activist…
William Barton, the indigenous composer…
… as well as people working in areas as diverse as insect farming, indigenous rights, healthcare, and helping migrants and refugees
There’s also a Young Australian of the Year award, and a Senior Australian of the Year.
Then as you mentioned before: Australians all over the country celebrate January 26 by getting together with family, going to the beach, attending live music concerts .. all sorts of events. I’ll throw another link in to the Australia Day Council’s website, so everyone can search for events near them.
Now Amanda, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t say that some people want to change the date of Australia Day. Why’s that?
Well, that brings us back to the Aboriginal experience. Some people call January 26 Invasion Day, and hold protest marches on January 26.
And how many Australians are in favour of changing the date?
According to polls, about 28% of all Australians would like to change the date of Australia Day. Which means that 72% are okay with it staying on January 26… the funniest suggestion for a date change is for May 8, because it sounds like MAATE. And you can’t get much more Australian than that.
This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
Question 1 What’s the name of the British naval commander who planted the Union Jack flag in Sydney Cove on January 26, 1788?
Question 2 Why is May 8 one suggestion for a different date for Australia Day?
Question 3 What award is given on Australia Day?