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Australia Day History

The quest for the celebration of a united Australian Day and the parallel search for a unique sense of 'Australian identity' commenced within a few short years of the First Fleet landing of 1788 and subsequent white settlement of the land.

The following overview gives a chronological account of how settlers and Indigenous Australians have alternatively acknowledged, celebrated and mourned the 26 January and its significance since 1788.

Since the initial years of white settlement, Australians have celebrated a national day. In the process, they have also defined what it means to be Australian. January 26 has traditionally marked the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip at Port Jackson in present-day Sydney, thereby claiming Australia for the British Empire. Early settlers, perhaps naturally, marked the anniversary of the colony's establishment. Australia Day has consequently evolved from a small commemorative New South Wales holiday into a major national celebration. Though it has often been criticised, it has nevertheless emerged as the most inclusive celebration of a national day in Australia, expressing the national diversity which has become such an important part of the Australian national character. Whereas once it celebrated the staunchly British nature of Australian society (or was disparaged for this approach), it now embraces multicultural Australia, including all ethnic backgrounds, racial differences and political viewpoints. Australia Day today is a celebration of diversity and tolerance in Australian society.