• Australia Day, or differently-titled holidays celebrating the Aussie identity, have been celebrated on a range of dates throughout our history. (Australian War Memorial)Source: Australian War Memorial
Many Aussies are adamant Australia Day has always been celebrated on January 26, the moment British boots landed on Aussie soil - but this isn't actually the case.
Chloe Sargeant

26 Jan 2018 - 8:38 AM  UPDATED 25 Jan 2022 - 9:23 AM

The conversation surrounding changing the date of Australia Day from January 26 has become steadily more mainstream in the last few years.

In the past few years, large-scale Invasion Day rallies have made mainstream headlines, youth radio station triple j announced they would be moving the Hottest 100 from January 26 in order to depoliticise the music countdown and make it available to all Australians, and usage of the #ChangeTheDate hashtag on social media has become widely recognised.

While the conversation remains ongoing with strong voices on both sides of the issue, it might be worth delving into the historical adaptability of the date. Many Aussies are steadfast that the national day has been celebrated on January 26 since the moment British boots landed on Aussie soil, up to this very moment - but this isn't actually the case.

So, here's a round-up of just some of the dates we've celebrated 'Australia Day', or similar holidays that celebrated Australia's founding or Australian identity.

Australia Day - 30th July

The first ever official national day that was actually named 'Australia Day'! On July 30 in 1915, the first official Australia Day was held, which was actually to raise funds for the World War I effort.

Ellen Wharton-Kirke, from Manly NSW, made the suggestion to Premier Sir Charles Wade, reportedly due to the enlistment of her three sons. According to the Australian War Memorial website,

"Mrs Wharton-Kirke had seen the generosity of the Australian people during other fundraising days and saw an ‘Australia Day’ as a way of drawing on the pride of Australians in their soldiers’ recent achievements at Gallipoli.

"30 July 1915 was the date agreed upon, and events were held across all of Australia."

Australia Day - 28th July 

In 1916, the Australia Day committee that had formed (to organise the war effort fundraising the year before) determined that it would be held on July 28. 

Anniversary Day - 26th January (NSW)

Previous to 1888, New South Wales was the only place that celebrated Australia Day (then called Anniversary Day) on January 26. 

These celebrations were all Sydney-centric (other states and territories had their own celebrations to mark their founding) - for example, Governor Lachlan Macquarie held a 30-gun salute at Dawes Point to mark 30 years as a colony in 1818. 

In 1837, the first Sydney Regatta was held. In 1838, crowds of people attended the event and to see the hoisting of the New South Wales flag. South Australia, Western Australia, and Van Diemens Land (Tasmania) were toasted as sister colonies, despite having their own celebratory day.

In early colonial times, the 26th was also called 'First Landing Day' or 'Foundation Day' by some, and would be celebrated by European immigrants (particularly ex-convicts) by holding anniversary dinners. Some would begin their festivities the night of the 25th, with records existing of ex-convicts participating in "drinking and merriment" to celebrate their new home from as early as 1808.

Hobart Regatta Day - 1st December (TAS)

This annual event, which is still going (and is the longest-standing public holiday in Australia) was once Tassie's annual celebration of being Australian.

Tasmania has celebrated Hobart Regatta Day since 1838, as it commemorates the anniversary of Abel Tasman's discovery of Tassie, in 1642.

Since 1879, Regatta Day has now been held in January or February.

Foundation Day - 1st June (WA) 

Now called Western Australia Day, the date of this holiday actually moved around every year - it was held on the first Monday in June, to commemorate the founding of the Swan River Colony in 1829.

Lieutenant-Governor James Stirling, who was aboard the merchant vessel Parmelia and sighted the coast on June 1 (officially proclaiming the Swan River Colony June 11), thought an annual celebration was necessary to unify the members of the colony.

It was called Foundation Day up until 2011 - after a series of law changes, which recognised WA's Indigenous peoples as the original inhabitants of the land, the day was renamed to Western Australia Day in 2012. 

Proclamation Day  - December 28 (SA)

Proclamation Day was a celebration of the date the government was established in South Australia as a British province in 1836.

This was South Australia's 'founding day' celebrations until 1910, when they officially unified with other states to celebrate Australia Day on January 26.

However, formal celebrations for Proclamation Day are still held at Glenelg North on December 28.

Australia Day - 26th of January

All of the states and territories of Australia were celebrating the national day together by 1935, 83 years ago - although it was still known as Anniversary Day in NSW, and Foundation Day in other areas.

First Nation Peoples have been protesting the date for almost the same amount of time, with the first official 'Day of Mourning' being held by the Australian Natives Association in 1938.

In 1938, the Sesquicentenary - or 150th anniversary - of British colonisation of Australia, was widely celebrated in all state capitals. The main celebrations were held in Sydney, but newspapers from others states show that language had now evolved around January 26 to be a national date of significance. 

Brisbane's Courier-Mail  told its readership that the date was not just of interest to NSW anymore: "Sydney has the pageantry, but the event it recalls and reconstructs is significant to all Australians. A nation was founded when Governor Phillip landed at Port Jackson. To that nation we all belong" was written under the headline, 'A dream that came true'.

In 1946, the Commonwealth and state governments agreed to unify all the state-based Australia Day celebrations and celebrate on January 26 as a country - the public holiday was taken on the Monday closest to the 26th.

Australia Day officially became a public holiday for all states and territories only 24 years ago, in 1994.

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. 

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