This post is part of a series of “Ask Google? Ask Fairlie!” posts. Today, I’m asking Google about Australia Day. Using the auto-complete suggestions, I find out some of the most Googled questions about Australia Day. Then I answer those questions myself. Who needs Google when you can ask Fairlie?
Is Australia Day a public holiday?
Let’s start with an easy one! Yes, it is indeed a public holiday right across Australia. And it is a public holiday on 26 January, regardless of what day of the week that falls on. So if, for instance, it falls on a Sunday, there’s no extra Monday public holiday in lieu of that (although some employers do, in fact, provide this to their employees).
It wasn’t always that way. When I was growing up in Western Australia, the holiday was on the nearest Monday, regardless of what that date was, so that it became a ‘long weekend’ holiday. Hence, the often-repeated jibes about Australia being the land of the long weekend. Since 1994 it has been celebrated on the actual day in every state and territory – which this year, just happens to fall on a Monday.
Why is Australia Day on the 26th?
Oh, this is a complex question, with a long and somewhat controversial background.
The short answer is that 26 January 1788 was the date that Governor Arthur Phillip of the First Fleet stepped ashore at Sydney Cove (where Circular Quay is) after his minions had already planted a British flag, then with several officers gathered around the flagpole, he raised a glass of something alcoholic to toast the King’s health and to success for this new settlement. In his own account of the event he writes:
In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king’s health, and success to the settlement, with all that display of form which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits, and fills the imagination with pleasing presages. (The Voyage of Governor Phillip to Botany Bay by Arthur Phillip)
This event has come to be seen as the founding of modern Australia. But there’s a few issues with this concept, namely: it was just the founding of a single one of the Australian colonies which later joined together to form ‘Australia’ at Federation in 1901; the continent already had inhabitants in the form of the Indigenous Australians who had occupied the place for 40,000+ years; and it wasn’t even the actual first day Governor Phillip had stepped ashore onto the continent, as Sydney Cove was the second site chosen for the settlement after the initial Botany Bay location proved problematic. So, it’s a fairly arbitrary date for a national day of celebration.
Each year, newspaper columnists and opinion-leaders suggest alternative dates for a national day. The most likely alternative option is the anniversary of Federation in 1901, which was when all the former colonies joined to form the nation of Australia. But as that happened on 1 January, which is already a public holiday for New Year’s Day, it doesn’t have wide popular appeal.
What is Australia Day’s history?
Again, the full answer to this question is a long-winded and complicated one. If you want a great overview of the all the ins and outs of the process, there is an excellent essay on the Australia Day website which was researched and written by historian Dr Elizabeth Kwan called Celebrating Australia: A History of Australia Day.
The short answer is that the concept of ‘Australia Day’ as a public holiday day of national celebration has been around since 1935, and since 1994 Australia Day has been celebrated by all states and territories on 26 January.
What is Australia Day really about?
This question has lots of different answers. In my opinion, Australia Day is a day for all Australians to celebrate the many blessings and opportunities we enjoy by living in this country, to reflect on the past and all that has happened to bring us to where we are now; to recognise the Indigenous people of this land and what their experience has been; and to consider how we want our future to look and what contribution we can make to ensure it eventuates.
Is Australia Day racist?
Again, a controversial question. There is definitely a perspective that sees the choice of 26 January as the date for national celebration as a slap in the face for the nation’s Indigenous people. For some of them, the date is known as ‘Invasion Day’ or ‘Survival Day’, and it marks the day that forever changed their people’s traditional way of life.
As I said in my post about Melbourne Day, I feel uncomfortable with the notion of celebrating ‘founding days’. The concept seems to assume that the arrival of colonists is a starting point for something, rather than just another milestone in the continuum of the history of a place.
My personal preference would be to create an ‘Australia Day’ date which is future-focussed and inclusive of all the Australians who make up this country whether they be of ancient, mid-term, or newly-arrived ancestry. Perhaps that date could be the anniversary of Australia becoming a republic (if that day ever comes?)
How is Australia Day celebrated?
As far as on-the-ground activities, Australia Day is celebrated in a wide-range of ways. There’s a jam-packed official program of events which you can access via the Australia Day website.
Many local governments (councils and shires) hold citizenship ceremonies as an important part of Australia Day celebrations. They are often presided over by officials including the Governor-General, Prime Minister, government ministers and local government mayors.
Plus, the Australians of the Year are announced on the eve of Australia Day (this year at 6pm AEST 25 January 2015). There are four categories (Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australian Local Hero of the Year) and the awards which are coordinated by the Australia Day Council are intended to celebrate the achievements and contributions of eminent Australians ‘by profiling leading citizens who are role models for us all’. The idea is that they will inspire us to make our own contribution to creating a better Australia.
Unofficially, Australia Day is celebrated by families and friends gathering for social functions, spending the day at the beach, watching sports events, catching up on housework, going shopping – just like any other public holiday.
Personally, the Fairlie Entourage will be attending an evening fundraising event, from where we’ll be able to watch the Australia Day fireworks at Docklands. The event will be raising funds for six months of milk, fruit, vegetables and education for children living in an orphanage in Ethiopia – which to me is what Australia Day is all about – reflecting on our own opportunities and blessings, and doing what we can to create a better future for all.
What question would you be Googling about Australia Day?
To read all my previous posts about Australian destinations, click here.
This post is linked to:
#SundayTraveler series hosted by Chasing the Donkey