Australia Day is observed every year on 26 January.
The day commemorates the arrival of British Captain Arthur Phillip at Sydney Cove to establish a European settlement in Australia in 1788. The fleet carried over 750 convicts who had been tried and convicted in Great Britain for mostly petty crimes, as well as an additional 300 citizens from military and medical backgrounds.
The day was first officially celebrated as a day of British sovereignty over the eastern coast of Australia in 1818, and was later named “Anniversary Day”, “Foundation Day”, and “Australian Natives’ Association” (ANA) Day before being officially named “Australia Day” in 1935.
The holiday serves as a day of national unity and the largest annual civic event in the country, featuring community and family traditions, national award presentations, and the welcoming of new Australian citizens.
However, not all Australians feel the same about the day, as Indigenous Australians have long referred to this date as “Invasion Day” or “National Day of Mourning” in protest of the arrival of the British.
In 1938, William Cooper, a member of the Aboriginal Progressive Association, declared it as a “Day of Mourning”, alluding to the annual re-enactment of Captain Phillip’s landing. On Australia Day, many Aboriginal people mourn their forebears who suffered and perished during colonisation.
Some still observe counter-celebrations, and the holiday has sparked a controversial debate. Since the late 20th century, Aboriginals and their supporters have criticised Australia Day celebrations as excessively nationalistic and have sought greater recognition both indigenous inhabitants of the continent and of the effect on them of European settlement.
The Australian government has acknowledged the traditional owners of lands which Australia Day takes place, in hope that Australians from all backgrounds come together to celebrate Australia as a multicultural society.
Today, the day is also infused with deep respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Protests to change the date of Australia Day to respect the Indigenous Australians also take place.
The celebration of Australia Day includes many public ceremonies, and has long included naturalisation ceremonies for new immigrants. Sporting events, such as horse races and regattas, have also been an important part of the celebrations, and the day’s festivities often end with fireworks.