What is Australia Day? Meaning behind today’s events and ‘Invasion Day’ controversy explained


Australia is celebrating its national day today – but it has been met with widespread protests.

While some see Australia Day as a celebration of Australian culture, it also has ties to colonialism and the oppression of indigenous Australians.

Thousands of people typically come together to protest with smoke ceremonies, dances and marches in the streets.

In Canberra this year, people gathered to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tent Embassy.

The Tent Embassy is a permanent protest occupation site focused on representing the political rights of Aboriginal Australians.

It was first established in 1972 under a beach umbrella, but has been situated on the lawn opposite Old Parliament House in Canberra since 1992.

When is Australia Day?

Australia Day is observed on 26 January every year.

It marks the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet at Port Jackson in New South Wales, and the raising of the British flag at Sydney Cove by Arthur Phillip in 1788.

The First Fleet was 11 ships which set sail from Portsmouth to Australia, carrying the prisoners that became the first European settlement in Australia.

There are records of 26 January being celebrated as far back as 1808, though it did not become known as Australia Day until over a century later.

Only since 1994 has the whole country celebrated the day together. Before that, some states held celebrations on a Monday or a Friday to ensure a long weekend.

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How is it marked?

Australia Day is a public holiday, meaning many people are given the day off work.

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Modern day celebrations aim to highlight Australia’s diversity and history.

Official community awards honoring achievements, and citizenship ceremonies welcoming new members of the Australian community, are held.

Outdoor concerts, barbecues, sports competitions, festivals and firework displays are put on in communities.

The official Australia Day website says: “Australia Day is about acknowledging and celebrating the contribution that every Australian makes to our contemporary and dynamic nation.

“From our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – who have been here for more than 65,000 years – to those who have lived here for generations, to those who have come from all corners of the globe to call our country home.”

Why is the day controversial?

Some Australians see Australia Day as a symbol of British colonialism, and the impact it had on Australia’s indigenous population. It has been labeled “Invasion Day” and “Survival Day” by some indigenous Australians.

In response, official celebrations make an effort to promote diversity and include indigenous people, highlighting the importance of Aboriginal culture and history.

However, many groups have moved to celebrate on a different day that is not tied to the colonial invasion.

In January 2019, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that, starting from Australia Day 2020, all local councils would only be allowed to hold celebrations on 26 January.

This caused widespread anger. An estimated 80,000 people turned up to protest in Melbourne, with further rallies across the country.


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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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