Welcome to Australia Day
 HomeAbout UsWhat's OnHistoryAwardsSchool RoomMedia RoomContact

 History - Celebrate Our Past

 Historic Timeline
1788 - 1888
1888 - 1938
1938 - 1988
1988 - Now
Chronology


Listen to the National Anthem

 Captain Arthur Phillip


All registered 26ers receive a birthday card from the Australia Day Committee (Victoria) on Australia Day.

Almost one in four of Australia’s population of over 20 million was born overseas, and 43 per cent have one or both parents born overseas.

Occupying an entire continent of some 7.6 million square kilometres, Australia is the sixth largest country in the world.

Since 1901 there have been ten public competitions for a new national flag and they have drawn over 60,000 entries.

Green and gold were formally proclaimed Australia's national colours in 1984 after many requests for recognition of what had become our traditional sporting colours.
Australia Day - A History

Download a PDF of Australia Day History here
Download a Word version of the Australia Day History here



Australia Day celebrates the anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip unfurling the British flag at Sydney Cove and proclaiming British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia on 26 January 1788.

Australia Day - Historic Time Line

The quest for the celebration of a united Australian national day commenced within a few years of the First Fleet landing and the subsequent white settlement of this island continent.

The following timeline gives a chronological history of how Australians have acknowledged, celebrated and mourned January 26 since 1788. It traces the path that leads to all States and Territories celebrating Australia Day as one on January 26 annually.

History: 1788 - 1888

Captain Arthur Phillip January 26, through more than 200 years of debate and controversy, has remained the Australian celebratory national day since that date in January 1788 when 'formal possession was taken of the Colony of New South Wales. On that day, Captain Arthur Phillip became Governor of the Colony, having jurisdiction over the area bounded by latitude 10 37' to latitude 43 49' south and inland to longitude 135 east'.

The fledgling colony soon began to mark the anniversary of 26 January 1788 with formal dinners and informal celebrations. Manning Clark noted that on January 26, 1808, the 'anniversary of the foundation of the colony' was observed in the traditional manner with 'drinking and merriment'. John Macarthur Senior had ensured his soldiers were amply supplied with liquor, bonfires were blazing and private houses illuminated.

By 1820, Australia was beginning to look undeniably prosperous and sentiments of Australian patriotism were being expressed at gatherings of ex-convicts. The sense of belonging to a new nation was encouraged in 1817 when Governor Macquarie recommended the adoption of the name Australia, instead of New Holland, for the entire continent.

An article in the Sydney Gazette on February 1, 1817 records a typical anniversary dinner held in the house of Isaac Nichols, a respected emancipist and Australia's first Postmaster. Similar dinners are described involving William Charles Wentworth and friends on 26 January 1825 and 1828, when the catchcry and traditional toast had already become 'to the land, boys, we live in'. Many ex-convicts owned and ran the wealthiest and most successful businesses in the colony.

The first official celebrations were held in 1818, marking the 30th anniversary of white settlement. Governor Macquarie ordered a salute of 30 guns to be fired from the battery at Dawes Point and in the evening gave a dinner at Government House for civil and military officers. A ball followed, hosted by Mrs Macquarie.

During this time the day was called Foundation Day. Throughout the early 19th century, the day became one for sporting events, with horse races popular from the 1820s and regattas from the 1830s.

The growing sense of patriotism was being expressed in other ways. Young Charles Tompson, reputed to be our first Australian-born poet and the son of a transportee, was moved to compose eight stanzas of tribute to his native country for 26 January 1824 titled 'Wild Notes from the Lyre of a Native Minstrel'.

Edward Smith Hall, proprietor and publisher of The Monitor, had people such as Charles Tompson in mind when he wrote, in 1821, 'the circumstances of the parents of the most of them having come to the country in bondage, so far from making them humble, causes them to be the proudest people in the world...the circumstance of being free is felt by them with a strength bordering on fierce enthusiasm.'

Fifty years after Phillip landed, in 1838, a number of celebratory events were organised and the first public holiday ever marked in Australia was announced for the 26 January in that year.

In distinct contrast to the mainly private and somewhat elitist anniversary dinners in previous years, January 26, 1838 became a day for everyone.

By 1888, Australia's population numbered almost three million and many changes had taken place over the previous 50 years. Gold had been discovered in the 1850s, in places such as Bendigo and Ballarat, bringing great wealth, immigration from all over the world and increased agitation for democratic reforms (taxation and representation).

The first centenary of white settlement was celebrated with great enthusiasm. With the exception of Adelaide, all colonial capitals declared Anniversary Day 1888 a public holiday and celebrations took place throughout the colonies. Ceremonies, parades, exhibitions, fireworks, banquets, and church services were popular. In Melbourne there was a Centennial International Exhibition that remained open from August 1888 to February 1889, attracting nearly two million visitors.

The centenary was also marked by numerous historical publications and commemorative volumes as well as souvenirs and other centenary ephemera. Australians were beginning to talk widely about other political questions of the day, including the move towards Federation.

The Australia Committee (Victoria) gratefully acknowledges the support of the Australia Day Council of New South Wales in compiling this Historic Timeline.