Australia Day is a public holiday held annually on 26 January to mark the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of 11 convict ships from the UK in 1788. In the present day, it celebrates contemporary Australia – the vibrant society, landscape and culture. From fireworks to parties and barbecues, Australia Day is a widely celebrated event.
The tradition began in the 19th century. Documents referring to First Landing Day or Foundation Day recorded the celebration. Immigrants who had prospered in New South Wales – and the offspring of convicts – began to hold an annual dinner. Governor Lachlan MacQuarie, who partially influenced the evolution from a penal colony to a free settlement, made the 30th anniversary of the day a public holiday in 1818.
In 1826, the name "Australia" was used in toasts at anniversary dinners. It was recommended in Matthew Flinder's Voyage to Terra Australis, and proposed by MacQuarie to the British government in 1817. The name was taken by emancipists and notably, it was used by William Charles Wentworth in the colony's first uncensored newspaper the Australian in 1824.
Around a decade later, the Day of Mourning was established and held on January 26th 1938. Purposefully held on the same date as Australia Day, it was a protest held by Aboriginal Australians against the 150 years of mistreatment and seizure of land when the first ships landed. The first march was organised by two bodies. One protest was held in Victoria by the Australian Aborigines League, which was led by William Cooper. The other was organised by the Aborigines Progressive Association in New South Wales, by Jack Patten.
Since 1938, Day of Mourning protests have been held each year. A re-enactment of the original Day of Mourning was staged in 1998, in which around 400 protesters marched in silence along the original route. Descendants of the original protesters read their speeches. Today, there have been issues of flag burning and other activities on January 26th. It has also been described as Invasion Day.
After deliberation, the Australian government issued a formal apology in February 1998, for the wrongs inflicted on Aboriginal Australians by successive governments. Kevin Rudd, the prime minister at the time, read out the apology for the laws and policies that "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss". Although it was met with cheers when broadcasted, some Aborigines said they should have received compensation – as well as recognition of the injustice.
Particular attention was drawn to the Stolen Generations; the young Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents by Australian Federal and State government agencies for reasons of racial assimilation. Church missions also removed the children, who were adopted or sent to institutions, allegedly for child protection and miscegenation. It was believed that exposing the children to "Anglo values" would prevent their languages, culture and identities from being passed on. Therefore, exterminating the Aboriginal people. It lasted from the late 1800s to the 1970s.
The apology was met with a mixed response. Noel Pearson, an Aboriginal Australian lawyer and campaigner for Aboriginal rights, stated in the Australian newspaper: "Blackfellas will get the words, the whitefellas keep the money."