26 January 2011

What were your ancestors doing on Australia Day?

Australia Day, the 26th of January, marks the anniversary of the planting of the Union Jack by the British on Australian soil in 1788; and thereby their claiming of the eastern half of the continent. However, at various times throughout our history, the day has had different meanings and significance for Australians.

1804-1818. If your ancestor was a convict, soldier, or free settler they may have acknowledged 'First Landing Day' or  'Foundation Day'.

1818. If your ancestor was a prosperous freed convict, or the child of a convict, they might have celebrated the 'Emancipist Festival' at Government House in Sydney with an opulent meal and a toast. In 1818 this was declared a public holiday by Governor Macquarie to mark the 30th anniversary of settlement. 

1838-1887. Your ancestor in New South Wales, would have enjoyed the 'Jubilee' holiday as an annual event, and, if they were in Sydney, would have enjoyed watching the splendid Sydney regatta. By this era your ancestors would have regarded themselves as 'Australian' if they were born in New South Wales, (including from 1851 Victoria, and 1859 Queensland), or in the three 'sister' colonies of Van Dieman's Land, South Australia, and Western Australia; although these colonies had their own Foundation days.

1888. At the centenary of settlement, delegates of all the colonies, and New Zealand, met in New South Wales to declare the NSW anniversary day a holiday in all colonies. From this date it was known as 'Foundation Day' or 'Anniversary Day'. The Australian Natives Association (ANA) promoted the day. Australian 'Natives' were those born in Australia of European ancestry. By this time your ancestor may have been celebrating with a sports event, such as cricket, or with foot, yacht, or bicycle races, or maybe a picnic?

1901-1929. Celebration of Federation of the colonies into a unified Australia overshadowed the anniversary day in 1901. Federation bought many controversies, and also a new urgency to find our national identity. In 1905 Empire Day was created on the 24th of May to remember our links to Britain and became our most celebrated national day. Schools celebrated Empire Day.

1930. While the 26th of January was now 'Australia Day', the holiday was set for the Monday of that week, in order to preserve the long weekend which became known as the ANA weekend.

1938. Celebrations for the sesquicentennial anniversary occurred in all the capital cities.  Aboriginal Australians declared the day a 'Day of Mourning' in protest of the treatment they had received at the hands of white men since settlement. The 'Day of Mourning' was also a day to appeal for Aboriginal rights and equality. If your ancestors were Aboriginal they could only look back upon 150 years of increased marginalisation and, in Tasmania, genocide. 

1960. The 'Australian of the Year' Award was created.

1979. The National Australia Day Committee was established to incorporate celebrations, and sponsorships and to promote the day as a national commemoration. 

1988. Many of us would still remember the bicentenary celebrations of fireworks, and the glorious First-Fleet re-enactment on Sydney Harbour.

1994. Australia Day across the country began to be celebrated as a holiday on the 26th of January, and the ANA long weekend was abolished.

Dr Elizabeth Kwan, Celebrating Australia: A History of Australia Day essay.http://www.australiaday.org.au/experience/page76.asp 
History of Australia Day