10 things you should know about January 26

As the highly political 26 January approaches, here are some important historical moments (beyond the First Fleet)

Australia Day In Melbourne

Australia Day celebrations on 26 January 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. Source: Getty Images AsiaPac

1. You should know that... The First Fleet didn't actually arrive on the 26 January

The First Fleet, the group of ships which left England to create a penal colony abroad, actually arrived in Botany Bay somewhere between the 18th and 20th of January 1788.

Source: GIPHY

After landing, settlers wanted to relocate in the hope of finding a more suitable area to construct their colony. They travelled to Sydney Cove on 25 January and the next morning, on the 26th, Sir Arthur Phillip and a small entourage of marines and officers claimed the land in the name of King George III.


2. You should know that... The first sanctioned marriage between an Aboriginal person and a convict occurred on the 26 January

Robert and Maria Lock were married in Paramatta in on 26 January 1824. 

This union was performed on the 26th only by coincidence and has nothing to do with 'Australia Day' as we recognise it. However, Maria Lock is a historical figure in Australia and it's Aboriginal history.  

Maria was of the Boonooberongal clan of the Darug people. She was the daughter of Yarramundi, known as the 'Chief of the Richmond Tribes', and the sister of Colebee. Colebee was captured along with Bennelong in 1789 and held at Government House (Colebee later escaped).

In 1814, Maria was the first Aboriginal child to be admitted to the Native Institution in Parramatta where it's believed that in 1819, at the age of 14, she topped the school examination ahead of over 100 other students.

St John's Cathedral Church in Parramatta, built 1803 (Wikimedia Commons)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

In 1822 she married Dicky, a son of Bennelong, who fell ill and died mere weeks after their wedding. Two years later she remarried, this time to Robert Lock, a convict carpenter from Norfolk, England. This was the first legal Aboriginal-British marriage in the colony and they were wed at St John's Church in Parramatta. The couple went on to have 10 children. 

Maria is best known for her stoic petitioning, seeking the land grants promised to her by Governor Macquarie as a marriage portion. She petitioned to Governor Darling, and included her deceased brother's land grant in Blacktown. Successful, she received 40 acres in Liverpool in 1833, and was eventually given Colebee's 30 acres a decade later. This was an remarkable pursuit in the nineteenth century, not only as for woman becoming a landowner, but an Aboriginal woman. 

When she passed away in 1878, her lands were left to her nine surviving children and they were occupied by her descendants until around 1920 when the freehold land was considered to be an Aboriginal reserve. It was later revoked by the Aborigines Protection Board.


3. You should know... What Henry Parkes said about the 1888 Centenary celebrations

When Parkes (the then Premier of NSW) was planning the upcoming celebrations of the 100 year anniversary in 1888, he was asked what — if anything — was being planned for Aboriginal people in the Centenary events.

Parkes retorted, 'And remind them that we have robbed them?'; a harsh, but truthful response, one that many modern-day politicians still don't seem to recognise. 

Statue of Henry Parkes in Centennial Park, Sydney. (Centennial Parklands)
Source: Centennial Parklands

At the centre of his plans was to officially open the Centennial Parklands and dedicate 'a public open space for the enjoyment of the people of NSW'. Aboriginal people were banned from this public event.  


4. You should know that... A significant Aboriginal protest in 1938 rallied against Australia Day and called it the 'Day of Mourning'

A meeting, then followed by a silent march and protest, unanimously passed the resolution, "We, representing the Aborigines of Australia, assembled in conference at the Australian Hall, Sydney, on the 26th day of January, 1938, this being the 150th Anniversary of the Whiteman's seizure of our country, hereby make protest against the callous treatment of our people by the whitemen during the past 150 years, and we appeal to the Australian nation of today to make new laws for the education and care of Aborigines, we ask for a new policy which will raise our people to full citizen status and equality within the community."

Aborigines day of mourning, Sydney, 26 January 1938 (State Library of NSW)
Source: State Library of NSW

The name 'Invasion Day' gained national prominence during the 1988 protests, but it is unclear whether or not this is the first time it was used. The first 'Survival Day' concert was held in 1992 but so too is it unclear whether this was the first usage of this name.


5. You should know that... The 150th Anniversary, Aboriginal people were forced to participate in a reenactment of the landing of the First Fleet

One of the events that were organised for the 1938 celebrations was a re-enactment of the landing and proclamation of Captain Arthur Phillip. 

According to the National Museum of Australia website: 

Aboriginal people living in Sydney refused to take part so organisers brought in men from Menindee, in western New South Wales, and kept them locked up at the Redfern Police Barracks stables until the re-enactment took place.

On the day itself, they were made to run up the beach away from the British – an inaccurate version of events. Film footage of the re-enactment clearly shows that the men were not willing participants.

The First Fleet 're-inactment' (Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW)
Source: Mitchell Library, State Library of NSW


6.  You should know that... The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was established on the 26 January 1972

On 26 January 1972, four First Nations men (Michael Anderson, Billie Craigie, Bert Williams and Tony Coorey) set up a beach umbrella on the lawns opposite Parliament House in Canberra. 

Aboriginal Tent Embassy, 26 January, 1972 (State Library of NSW)
Source: State Library of NSW

Labelled the ‘Aboriginal Embassy’, the sit-in protest was symbolic of the fact that the government had made Indigenous Australians (in the words of Gary Foley), ‘aliens in our own land'. "So like other aliens, we needed an embassy," he said. 


7. You should know that... On 26 January 1988, more than 40,000 people staged the largest march in Sydney since the 1970s anti-Vietnam War demonstrations

Aboriginal protesters and non-Aboriginal supporters marched from Redfern Park to a public rally at Hyde Park, and then on to Sydney Harbour, to mark the 200th anniversary of British occupation and colonisation. 

Aboriginal protests on Sydney Harbour on Australia Day celebrations, 1988
Source: Wordpress

A 2014 documentary directed by Adrian Russell Wills, explores the remarkable and controversial events of Australia's Bicentenary and the Indigenous rights march. The film, 88, highlights a time where a national moment excluded Aboriginal voices in Australia's history, and the powerful response from a grassroots movement changed the social psyche. 

Watch 88 on SBS On Demand.   


8. You should know about... Archie Roach's 1988 protest song, 'Keep your handouts, give us back our land'

The well-known 2016 hit by A.B.Original's caused some controversy with its staunch anti-Australia Day message, but others have been protesting this celebration long before the #ChangeTheDate campaign. 

Midnight Oil most famously released protests songs about Aboriginal land and government mistreatment, but Archie Roach's 'Keep your handouts give us back our land' is a damning condemnation of racism in Australia and the 1988 bicentennial celebrations.

The lyrics sing:

200 years is a long long time, 200 years we've been toeing the line but no more, we say no more, no we've got nothing to be happy for, no, no. What we need is our independence, something to keep for our descendants before it's too late, no there's nothing here for us in '88.

You might think that we already have too much, and you say the government has given us enough, but here's one you'll never understand: just keep your handouts, give us back our land.


9. You should know that... Australia Day was not consistently celebrated on 26 January as a public holiday in all states and territories until 1994

Even though the name 'Australia Day' dates back to the early 1900s, the nation taking it as an official public holiday is a much more recent development. 


10. You should know that... The triple j Hottest 100 wasn't always on the 26 January

After being criticised for facilitating Australia Day celebrations by hosting their famous music countdown on a date that signifies European invasion, in 2017 the popular radio station did not host their event on the contentious day.

"The Hottest 100 wasn't created as an Australia Day event," said a statement from the broadcaster. "It was created to celebrate your favourite songs of the past year."

While pro-Australia Day campaigners have aired their grievances on this matter saying that Australia Day won't be the same without the station's contributions, a non-26 January countdown isn't a first for the Hottest 100.  

Triple J poster, 1989 (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)
Source: ABC

The very first poll was counted down by the broadcaster on 5 March 1989, and the countdown didn't regularly coincide with 26 January until 1998. What is more, in 2004 — where a groundbreaking seven Australian artists made it into the top 10 — it was held on 25 January.    


And a bit of bonus info - You should know that... It wasn't until 2013 that the Aboriginal flag and the Australian flag were raised together on Sydney Harbour Bridge for Australia Day

Despite being formally recognised in 1995 as an official Flag of Australia under the Flags Act 1953, the Aboriginal flag wasn't flown on the nation's most iconic landmark on the country's national day until nearly twenty years later.

The Australian and the Aboriginal flag fly together on the Sydney Harbour Bridge for the first time ever on Australia Day, 2013.
Source: AAP


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NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe


Published 20 January 2017 at 3:23pm, updated 14 January 2022 at 2:50pm
By Luke Pearson, Sophie Verass