Happy Australia Day Aussies! Our first Australia Day included watching the Royal Airforce Air Show over the Botanical Gardens, perusing hundreds of classic cars and even older forms of transportation, wandering through the Governor’s House (former home of the Queen) and its grounds, and watching some fantastic fireworks.

 In honor of Australia Day, a short history lesson on its beginnings.

Australia Day commemorates the anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing and unfurling of the British flag in Sydney, proclaiming the land Down Under a British colony for the next, oh, 200 years.  That date was January 26, 1788.  That’s right, Aussies wouldn’t have (virtually) total independence from the Crown until 1986, roughly 200 years later.  But, never ones to turn down an opportunity to celebrate, Australia Day lives on and has been celebrated throughout the years by patriotic Aussies….

In the years after Phillip’ arrival in Britain’s newest colony, various English upperclassmen and convicts alike celebrated the date with “drinking and merriment”, complete with gun salutes, horse races and regattas, and toasts “to the land, boys, we live in!”.  Jan 26th 1838 marked the first public holiday ever in Australia, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Phillipp’s landing. Fast forward to the centenary, and all colonial capitals in Australia celebrated the public holiday with various ceremonies, parades, banquets, fireworks and church services.  (Yes, even convicts are a church-going people). During World War I, the date temporarily switched to July 30th (purportedly to raise funds by drawing on Australian pride at Aussie soldiers’ recent achievements in the war). And in 1930, Jan. 26th was officially named “Australia Day” — a holiday to be observed by “prominent display of the Australian flag.”

The 150th anniversary was celebrated with similar pomp and circumstance as the earlier mile-markers.  (It was also on this day, the “150th Anniversary of the Whitemen’s Seizure of our Country” that a group of Aborigines in Sydney unanimously passed a resolution protesting the white man’s mistreatment of Aborigines since 1788 and appealed for new laws for equality.)  And for the bicentennial, re-enactments of the original voyage, more drinking and merriment, and the naming of a Year of Mourning for Australia’s Aboriginal people. 

Fast  forward to 2011, and not much has changed.  Despite normal Melbourne weather (overcast, cool and gray), heaps of people (including us!) flooded the city for the festivities.