I would like to answer the question why January 26th?
Many people may think that January 26th was the exact day the British arrived in New South Wales for the first time. Well, actually the British arrived at Botany Bay on the 18th January, after the eleven vessels sailed from England, 13th May 1787. We can only imagine the difficulties and challenges which faced all on that eight month voyage and admire the fortitude and endurance of our early settlers.
Upon arrival at Botany Bay, Governor Arthur Phillip was disappointed in what he saw. He had been instructed to go there on the recommendation of Sir Joseph Banks of the Royal Society, when he had accompanied Captain James Cook to the area. Convinced that Botany Bay was unsuitable, after the rest of the fleet arrived, Phillip set off to explore together with David Collins, who was to play a major role in Tasmania’s history and John Hunter, later to take over from Phillip as Governor, a spot just north of Botany Bay. There he discovered Port Jackson which he described: “the finest harbour in the world in which a thousand sail of the line may ride in the most perfect security.”
Well satisfied with the choice he immediately returned to Botany Bay and transferred all to the new site. At sundown on January 26th, 1788 a simple ceremony took place at Sydney Cove. The English flag was raised, toasts were drunk and volleys were fired. The other ships came in soon afterwards and next morning the transfer began of men and tents, equipment and stores.
Thus was the birth of the Commonwealth of Australia. From this settlement of New South Wales, came firstly the colony of Van Diemen’s Land (1803) then all the others. As time progressed they became fully separated colonies from New South Wales, Tasmania in 1825, South Australia in 1836, Victoria in 1850, and Queensland in 1859. The colony of Western Australia – independent from New South Wales – was formed in 1829. From the 1880s there was a concerted effort to bring all the colonies into one new nation and on the 1st January 1901, the colonies became States of the new nation of Australia.
So why not the 1st January 1901 for Australia Day? It is not unusual for a State or nation to celebrate its birthday on the date of settlement, so January 26th is apt indeed and from those very humble and harsh beginnings came Australia!
So how long has January 26th been celebrated as our birthday?
By 1808, January 26 was being celebrated as “First Landing Day” or “Foundation Day” with drinking and merriment. Thirty years after the arrival of the First Fleet, in 1818, the Governor of Australia, Lachlan Macquarie, ordered a 30-gun salute, hosted a dinner ball at Government House and gave government employees a holiday. In the following years, employees of banks and other organizations were also given holidays. In the following decades, horse racing and regattas were popular activities on January 26.
In 1838, Foundation Day was Australia’s first public holiday. It was also the occasion of the first public celebrations of the founding of Australia. The shores of Sydney Harbour were crowded and there was a firework display. By 1888, January 26 had become known as ‘Anniversary Day’ and was celebrated in all colonies except Adelaide. In 1888, the centenary of the arrival of the First Fleet was celebrated with ceremonies, exhibitions, banquets, regattas, fireworks and the unveiling of a statue of Queen Victoria.
By 1935, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, where it was still called Anniversary Day. In 1938, large scale celebrations were held. These included a re-enactment of the landing of the First Fleet.
From 1946, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states. However, the public holiday was moved to the Monday nearest to January 26 to create a long weekend. Since 1994, the Australia Day public holiday has been on January 26 in all states and territories.
We should be proud of the accomplishments of our people and of the nation. This why we celebrate our nation’s birthday on January 26th….