On January 26 each year, Australians celebrate Australia Day. This holiday commemorates the beginning of European settlement in Australia when Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in 1788 with the First Fleet.
The fleet consisted of two warships, the Sirius and the Supply, and nine merchantmen. It’s recorded that there were 192 female convicts, 564 male convicts, 450 sailors, civil and military personnel, 28 wives and 30 children, (15 were children of convicts).
Their arrival marked the beginning of the British convict colony. Captain Phillip’s arrival came eighteen years after Captain Cook first explored Australia. Captain Phillip went ashore at Sydney Cove (Where the harbour ferry docks are today) and raised the British flag (near today’s Macquarie Square).
A flag-raising ceremony in the square is one of the activities that highlight this day. It’s a colourful ceremony with people dressing up in the clothing styles of 1788. Around Australia there are re-enactments of the first landing, hold regattas and parades. There are also concerts, carnivals, fireworks and a variety of other events.
Australians also take this day to reflect upon the hardships endured by the convicts, soldiers and the families as they struggled to live in a land so far from their homes.
While this is a celebration for most Australians, many Aboriginal people mark this day as a day of mourning. As the original inhabitants of this vast land, Aboriginals see this day as the beginning of the loss of their rights to live as they had for over forty thousand years. Today efforts are being made to restore those rights and respect their culture and traditions.