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Australia: Australia Day

Australians celebrate their national day—Australia Day—on 26 January, the anniversary of the day in 1788 when the commander of the First Fleet, Captain Arthur Phillip, proclaimed the sovereignty of the Kingdom of Great Britain over the eastern seaboard of New Holland, at Sydney Cove in New South Wales.

There was no official recognition of the founding of this first penal colony for some time, but by 1808 colonists—especially freed convicts—were celebrating the anniversary with “drinking and merriment”. The first official celebration (named “Foundation Day” took place in 1818 under Governor Lachlan Macquarie. However, it wasn’t until the centenary celebration in 1888 that the other Australian colonies beyond New South Wales marked the date at all; they all celebrated their individual foundation dates. It wasn’t until 1994 that all the States and Territories celebrated a unified public holiday on 26 January.

The arrival of European settlers isn’t universally seen as a cause for celebration, of course. The 1938 sesquicentennial celebrations were observed as a Day of Mourning by Aborigines, and the 1988 anniversary was marked as a Day of Invasion protest. (Memorably, a flotilla of Aborigines sailed up the Thames and “claimed” Great Britain.) Various alternative dates have been put forward for a national celebration, but although most Australians now agree that the day should acknowledge the culture of Aborigines and Australia’s cultural diversity generally, a clear majority are against shifting the date.

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