Australia Day – What Is It And What Can An Australian Visitor Expect?

Australia Day is Australia’s National Day – it commemorates the arrival at Sydney Cove on 26th January, 1738 of the first white settlers, the fleet of convicts, dispatched from Portsmouth, England. The group of 11 ships carried 759 convicts, 211 marines, 46 wives and children of Marines and Captain Arthur Philip’s staff of 9. Initially the group landed at Botany Bay, near Sydney’s current airport, but then decided to settle at Sydney Cove, near the historic Rocks area, and the southern end of the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Where it all started, Sydney Cove

Where it all started, Sydney Cove

Which Day Is Australia Day in 2013?

In 2013 Australia Day falls on a Saturday, so most workers will have the following Monday, the 28th, will be a public holiday, making a 3-day weekend of it.

In 2014 Australia falls on the Sunday, so the same deal applies – making  Monday, 27th the pulblic holiday.

By 2015 we actually get the perfect day – Australia Day on a Monday!

History of Australia Day

Oddly, Australia itself was not actually created until 1901, when the amalgamation of the then independent colonies was confirmed. Originally called Foundation Day, Australia Day was Australia’s first public holiday when 50 years after the first fleet’s arrival a holiday was announced in 1838. Often marked by sports events, including horse races and regattas, during the 19th century the holiday gained much greater significance in 1946 when all states, territories and the Federal government agreed to observe one national day “Australia Day” under one banner, and on one day.

By the time of the bicentennial in 1988 the celebrations continued to have an Imperial feel consisting of formal re-enactments of the First Fleet’s landing. The fact that the arrival of the first fleet was watched by the country’s original inhabitants was conveniently forgotten by generations of white Australian’s raised on the myth of an “empty land”. In response 1988 was also declared Year of Mourning for Australia’s Aboriginal people, though more positively they also regarded the year as a celebration of survival.

Private Celebrations of Australia Day

Australia Day today is a great party day. Formal ceremonies are held all around the the country – flag raising, citizenship ceremonies and the presentation of community awards. However most Aussies would celebrate the day with a backyard BBQ or a beach day including a few rounds of beach cricket followed by quite a few beers afterwards! If you have a the chance to enjoy a “barbie” with locals on Australia Day – take it, it will be a genuine cultural experience! The holiday, the Monday closest, makes one of the last long weekends before children return to school in early February.

Formal Public Celebrations of Australia Day

  • Sydney ferry race and tall ships race are held across the harbour where it all started for white Australians.
  • Citizenship ceremonies are normally held in many cities and the Order of Australia and Australian of the Year awards are announced. Australia Day Achievement Medallion is awarded based on excellence in government and non-government.
  • Fireworks celebrations are held in many towns and cities around the country. The Perth Lotterywest Skyworks display is billed as the largest Australia Day celebration in the country, with more than a third of the city’s population lining the Swan River for the display.
  • Large, often free music concerts are normally organised in all the major cities. One day cricket matches are often on offer too.
Perth's Swan River - location of the Australia Day fireworks

Perth’s Swan River – location of the Australia Day fireworks

Australia Day for Visitors

All public services including the post office will be closed. Public transport will run on a reduced timetable. The cities will be quiet, if on the other hand, you are at the beach you may struggle to find accommodation or even a tent site, if you are near a large city.

Most shops will open, particularly supermarkets and petrol stations, some will only be open reduced hours (typically 10-4).

With a bit of planning get yourself to one of the free events – check the local newspaper to find out what’s on – it’s generally a fun, relaxed, summer day.

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