Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Australia Day - January 26

Australian's love a reason for a big party and Australia Day is dedicated to just that.

It's not all party-fun though. January 26th started being celebrated as Australia Day in 1935. The party theme didn't really kick in until 1994. We may be slow but we sure know how to have a good time.

The history of this date is quite important in Australia being the day, in 1788, that Captain Arthur Phillip dropped off the first load of convicts and free settlers at Sydney Cove. That auspicious fleet of ships and cargo is known as the First Fleet and much of modern-Australia culture [or the underbelly of it] stems from those days. Captain Phillip went on to become the first Governor of New South Wales [we became "Australia" under the governorship of Lachlan Macquarie in 1826 though the name had been around since Matthew Flinders coined it way back in 1814].

Matthew Flinders, by the way, was quite the adventurer. He along with his buddy,George Bass,and crewman, William Martin, explored, named and mapped most of the Australian east coast, and a fair bit of the south coast, including Van Dieman's Land [Tasmania]. He later survived shipwreck on the Barrier Reef, a six year imprisonment in France and published the influential book, "A Voyage to Terra Australis".

But I digress. Having been celebrated as Foundation Day by the First Fleet settlers and later as Anniversary Day, in 1936 a Celebrations Council was set up in order to have a really good time for the 150th anniversary in 1938. The parties continued on, each year being bigger and better until 1988 and the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia.

1988 was a year full of controversy and the biggest party ever! Indigenous Australians made a concerted push for reconcilliation and land rights that is still being felt today. A Tent Embassy was set up outside the Sydney Royal Botanical Gardens with the aim of creating awareness of indigenous people and issues. Among the indigenous, Australia Day is known as Invasion Day. Recognition of their presence prior to European settlement and rights as prior occupants of the land has resulted in an improved standing, access to resources, official "Sorries", and a constant remnder and awareness that Europeans live on Aboriginal land.

Celebrations that year included a parade of sail from Hobart to Sydney. This event replaced the annual Sydney to Hobart race [Boxing Day 1987] and became an invitational to yachts and tall ships worldwide to participate. On Australia Day itself, the Tall Ships, historic steam ships and thousands of smaller craft paraded the Sydney Harbour. It was a magnificent day!

Since then, Australia Day has grown from a single day celebration to a party lasting several and including at least one weekend. The Big Day Out is a "touring" day-long rock concert featuring local and international performers, and attracting massive crowds. The concert series actually starts in New Zealand then spends a day each in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

Every major city holds its own party usually involving music, family events, festivals and eventually, fireworks. Regional areas aren't to be left out either having as much fun with only slightly less the glamour.

Outside of the party theme of the day, civic ceremonies concerning gaining citizenship and naming of Australians of the Year are held around the country. Many events are also dedicated to a charity and major funds are raised through merchandise sales and donation collectors on the day.

Australian's know how to party all right and we pack as much into an event as we can.