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A Guide to Australia Day

In the middle of the sunny and scorching Australian summer – a season famous for beach days and backyard barbeques – is Australia Day, the country’s national day held annually on 26 January.

The day marks the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, when British ships arrived in Port Jackson, New South Wales, and raised the Union Jack to mark the official declaration of British sovereignty.

Australia Day has been an official public holiday for all states and territories in Australia since 1994. In 2022, the Australia Day public holiday falls on Wednesday 26 January. There are plenty of Australia Day celebrations to partake in across the country. However, it’s important to understand the history of Australia Day and the context in which the public holiday sits, so you can decide on whether to participate.

Australia Day Past and Present

Australia Day has become a matter of contention in Australia due to its history and relation to Indigenous communities. In 2022, many celebrations will look slightly different or even take place online due to COVID-19.

For some, the Australia Day public holiday has become synonymous with clothing and accessories adorned with the Australian flag, and a cool body of water (be it the ocean or even a little inflatable pool). It’s also the day thousands of people officially become Australian citizens at citizenship ceremonies across the country. Overall, though, it is regarded as a day to acknowledge the country’s history, celebrate contemporary Australia, and reflect on what it means to be Australian.

For Indigenous Australians, who had occupied the land for over 50,000 years prior to the arrival of the British, Australia Day is a day of mourning (many non-Indigenous Australians feel the same way, and you may hear the terms ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Day of Mourning’ used instead). Many fly the Australian Aboriginal flag at half-mast and wear black clothing to protests and remembrances as a way of symbolising mourning.

The arrival of the First Fleet began the colonisation of the country, which brought massacres, oppression of Indigenous communities, theft of land and, more recently, the Stolen Generations of the early to mid-20th century, where Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families as a result of government policies. As such, there have been calls for Australia Day to be moved to a date that unites all of its people instead of continuing to cause a divide.

Australia Day Events

At present, the date remains the same, and celebrations, protests, ceremonies and remembrance will take place across the nation on or around 26 January. Wherever you are or whatever you choose to do, remember to help protect the community by staying COVID-safe!

Sydney

Australia Day in Sydney begins with Dawn Reflection where the First Nations artwork will be projected on the Sydney Opera House followed by the raising of both the Australian Aboriginal and the Australian National flags on top of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. The WugulOra Morning Ceremony – a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony and dance – immerses you in the world’s oldest living culture. There will also be an aquatic and aerial daytime spectacle that can be enjoyed from various vantage points at the Sydney Harbour. 

An Invasion Day protest and march will be held starting at the Town Hall on the morning of 26 January. Organisers ask protestors to wear face masks, bring water and hand sanitiser, and not attend if feeling unwell. A range of other activities will take place during the day, including live musical performances at an outdoor concert at the Sydney Opera House in the evening which will be broadcasted live on ABC TV from 7.30pm, followed by a spectacular show of fireworks.

Melbourne

Many events in Melbourne were cancelled in 2021 due to the challenges presented by COVID-19, such as the traditional Australia Day Parade which remains to be cancelled this year as well. Instead, there is a mix of in-person and virtual Invasion Day/Survival Day events in Victoria you can attend. You can check out the online Flag Raising Ceremony, the Royal Australian Artillery’s 21-Gun Salute at the Shrine of Remembrance and Air Force Roulettes aerial display in the CBD. 

The Survival Day 2022 concert, hosted by Our Songlines this year – a 100% Aboriginal-owned and woman-led organisation, will feature a vibrant array of music performances all afternoon and a barbecue.

Adelaide

Starting early in the morning in Elder Park (Tarntanya Wama) is a traditional Smoking Ceremony, with acknowledgement held for all First Nations peoples and friends. At twilight, Australia Day in the City festivities are ready to entertain you at Elder Park on the banks of the river. Enjoy Aus Lights on the River and learn about the story of the River Torrens. There are also many exciting activities happening at Rundle Mall; you can check the program here. You can also show your support for First Nations people at the Survival Day March 2022.

Brisbane

Brisbane will host a Civic Ceremony followed by fireworks from 5pm on 26 January.

Unfortunately, fireworks and fun activities including a summertime pool party have been cancelled this year. However, some events are happening on the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.

Additionally, Townsville will host the official State flag-raising ceremony online, followed by a 21-gun salute and the Royal Australian Airforce flypast. Australia Day celebrations will also involve streaming of the Dawn Service and performance by indigenous dancer and singer Mitch Tambo. Survival Day protest will take place in Townsville and it’s the only one happening this year. As always, make sure you wear face masks and bring water and sun protection if you decide to go out. 

Perth

For a day full of adventure and entertainment, Perth has an excellent program line-up for everyone. The annual Birak Concert boasts a stellar line-up of entertainment, food vendors, and more at Supreme Court Gardens. Don’t miss out on the Australia Day Air Show courtesy of the Air Force.

End the night watching the firework show over the Swan River at 8pm and add to your experience by tuning in to mix94.5’s music soundtrack.

Canberra

This year, Canberrans can enjoy a two-day Australia Day celebration starting a walk under a sky full of stars, admiring a handful of national attractions, and sharing stories by the campfire on the night of 25 January. The next day, celebrations in Canberra start with a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony by the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin and conclude with music and dinner from local food trucks.

Darwin

For a fast-paced start to Australia Day, sign up to OZ RUN, the Northern Territory’s largest running event, where you can pick either a 2.5 or 5km walk/run. There’s a Zumba warm-up to get your blood pumping before the run and music playing throughout the course. There is also a range of other activities lined up for the day, including a Smoking Ceremony, an indoor cultural festival, and an artistic light installation. For a day and night of fun featuring Indigenous and multicultural performances, food and games, check out OzFusion.

You can see the full program for Australia Day in the Northern Territory here.

Hobart

This year, the Australia Day Breakfast on the Bellerive Boardwalk will go ahead. If you want to enjoy a fun day of swimming and barbeques, you can also check out the Bushy Park Swimming Pool or New Norfolk Swimming Pool.

Alternatively, join the Online Invasion Day Rally 2022 from home to show solidarity with Aboriginal communities.

Other events 

If you’d rather give 26 January a miss, there are several events occurring around this date that you can enjoy instead.

The Triple J Hottest 100, an annual countdown of the year’s 100 best songs as voted by the public, was broadcast on the Triple J radio station on Saturday 22 January. In recent years, the countdown was synonymous with Australia Day, but following a public survey in 2018, Triple J changed the date to remove the Hottest 100 from the wider Australia Day debate. In 2022, the Hottest 100 continues to partner with Lifeline, a leading provider of crisis support across the country. 

Later in the year is National Reconciliation Week, a time for people to learn about Australia’s shared histories and culture while building relationships, respect and trust between Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. Important events will be held across the country, so keep an eye out on the Reconciliation Australia website for information on how to get involved.

Image courtesy of Destination NSW