This Week in History: Colonisation of Australia begins, 1788

This Thursday marks Australia Day – 229 years since the first fleet of British ships arrived in Port Jackson in New South Wales, and the beginning of British sovereignty in Australia. The day is commemorated with a public holiday and the presentation of Australian of the Year (an award many of us are familiar with through watching Chris Lilley´s We Can Be Heroes). Many citizenship ceremonies take place on the date every year, and in recent times it has repeatedly been the date with the largest en mass acquisition of Australian citizenship.

But over the last century the day has been increasingly surrounded by controversy as it marks the founding of the Australian colonies rather than of the independent state we know today. This event sparked years of fierce struggle between indigenous Australians and European colonists for control over the land, during which time the aboriginal community saw great suffering and casualties. Consequently, the celebration of Australia day continues to be strongly criticised by aboriginals and their allies.

In 1938 an Aboriginal Day of Mourning was held to coincide with the celebrations, and in 1988 the indigenous community led celebrations of Invasion Day, a term which has stuck with some.

To combat growing dissatisfaction, an attempt has been made to include aboriginal culture in official celebrations, such as the Woggan-ma-gule ceremony, held in Sydney each year.
Prominent Australians have led calls for discussions regarding a change in the date on which Australia Day is celebrated, with some suggesting the date on which the Federation of Australia was founded, January 1st. However, this is of course New Year´s Day, and as such was considered to be inappropriate because this is already a public holiday.

Despite wide criticism of the date celebrated, it seems that the majority of Australians do not see the need for change, with a poll taken in 2004 indicating that 79 per cent of the population were satisfied with 26 January. However, in the thirteen years that have passed since then public opinion may well have changed as the discussion moves on, with figures such as 2009 Australian of the Year Mick Dodson supporting the date change.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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