With Australia Day approaching fast now is a good time to think about what we celebrate on our national day and why. Australia Day started life as the anniversary of a minor movement of the First Fleet from Botany Bay where they had made landfall some eight days earlier. It wasn’t the official commissioning of the colony either, which took place on 7 February. And of course, it wasn’t the arrival of people on this great land mass, an event which took place millennia before. So it turns out that in many ways the date, 26 January, is unimportant.
And yet, this 26 January will be the 223rd time that Australians have gotten together to celebrate their good fortune and (particularly in the early days) to thank their lucky stars that they have survived another year in this great but harsh land at all. Celebrations have ebbed and flowed during that time, sometimes enjoying a great groundswell of support, at other times bearing the marks of a cultural cringe. History is rarely one straight line of smooth sailing and Australia’s history is certainly a mottled one.
Today, we look forward to Australia Day in a land that enjoys one of the strongest democracies in the world. A place where our lives and lifestyles are rich and varied. A place where, for most of us, we are safe, well fed, and enjoy support from our communities. What a wonderful thing to be able to say! A quick look at how other nations are faring is enough to make us too thank our lucky stars. Australia is not perfect, however, and Australia Day is not a day to pretend that it is. Rather, it’s a great opportunity for us to band together as Australians to celebrate the good things, acknowledge the hard things, and recommit to working together to make Australia even better for the generations to come.
National Program Director
“...Australia Day has never really been about the founding moment as such, but about Australia and Australianness in a more general sense, whatever that may mean to any particular group, at a particular time.” David Andrew Roberts in Turning Points in Australian History.