What is Australia Day and when is it celebrated?

Australia Day is celebrated by people Down Under, but it’s not all barbecues and booze.

If you’ve noticed the day seems a little heated, it’s because it’s quite a controversial part of the Aussie calendar.

Find out all you need to know about Australia Day here…

When is Australia Day?

Australia Day is celebrated on January 26 every year.

It’s been a public holiday since 1994, so expect to see your friends Down Under take the day off, enjoying fireworks displays and spending time at the beach.

The day is also marked with an Honours List, and speeches from politicians.

Celebrities are known to get involved, too. This year, Olivia Newton John was criticised for not including Aboriginal Australians in her Australia Day message.

The Grease star took to Twitter to share a video, saying ‘G’Day everyone, this is Olivia and I just wanted to wish all of you Aussies all around the world a very, very happy Australia Day.’

Fans replied to share their disappointment as the message made no mention of Indigenous people.

Liam Hemsworth, however, was praised for sharing a thoughtful essay to his Instagram, with an image of the Aboriginal Australian flag. Part of his comment reads ‘Always Was, Always Will Be. acknowledges that hundreds of Nations and our cultures covered this continent.’

What does Australia Day commemorate?

Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet – 11 ships of convicts that set off from England – in Sydney in 1788.

Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack to signal their arrival, beginning the colonisation of Australia.

Australia Day wasn’t actually a national event until around a century later, but there are records of more local celebrations happening long before that.

It became a national event during the First World War, with the aim of using the day to fundraise for servicemen.

Why is Australia Day controversial?

Australia Day is controversial because First Nations people, or Indigenous Australians, inhabited the country for long before the First Fleet arrived.

According to National Geographic, Aboriginal Australians have been in the country for over 50,000 years – long before the British arrived.

It’s a day of mourning for many, as Australia Day is a reminder of the tens of thousands of deaths caused by colonisation. 

In recent years, there’s been a growing movement to change the date of the celebration. According to the BBC, 56% of Australians said in a recent poll they don’t mind moving the event, as long as it still exists. 

Protests often break out around the day, and this year was no different despite coronavirus regulations. Around 5,000 people gathered in Brisbane with signs that read ‘Black Lives Matter’ and [Australia] ‘Always Will Be Aboriginal Land’. 

Despite the controversy, Australia Day remains popular with politicians, and changing the date does not seem likely any time soon. 

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