If you’ve heard people discussing their upcoming plans in January, you’ve likely heard them talking about Australia Day. As a result, you might find yourself wondering, “What is Australia Day?” Well, it’s the country’s national holiday, which falls in the middle of the sunny and scorching Australian summer – a season famous for beach days and backyard barbeques. Let’s explore everything you need to know about Australia Day and how it’s observed across the country.
When is Australia Day?
Australia Day is 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 2023, the Australia Day public holiday falls on a Thursday. On the day, there will be plenty of Australia Day events happening across the nation. However, it’s important to understand the history of Australia Day and the context in which the public holiday sits, so you can decide what to do on Australia Day.
Australia Day past and present
Australia Day has become a matter of contention in Australia due to its history and relation to Aboriginal communities.
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).
However, for many others, namely Aboriginal 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. Several non-Aboriginal Australians feel the same way, and you may hear the terms ‘Invasion Day’, ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Day of Mourning’ used instead.
You can learn more about the controversial history surrounding Australia Day here.
What is open on Australia Day?
On Australia Day, you will find that many pubs, bars, restaurants and cafés remain open to help people make the most of the public holiday. In some cities, you will also find that museums and art galleries remain open, as well as botanic gardens, and even some entertainment complexes like cinemas.
The trading hours of shops and supermarkets will vary; some will close for the entire day, others will reduce their hours and others will stay open as usual. Check the websites of your local supermarkets or ask in store so that you can plan ahead. Remember that places like banks, schools and offices will all be closed.
Australia Day Events
At present, a range of celebrations, protests, ceremonies and remembrance events will take place across the nation on or around 26 January. Here’s what’s happening near you.
Australia Day in Sydney begins with Dawn Reflection, where artwork by First Nations artist and proud Kamilaroi woman Rhonda Sampson, will be projected onto the Sydney Opera House. This will be followed by the raising of both the Australian Aboriginal and the Australian National flags on top of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Several other events on 26 January will aim to honour First Nations peoples, including the WugulOra Morning Ceremony — a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony and dance — and Yabun Festival, which will feature live music, markets, and traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural performances. There is also an Invasion Day protest scheduled to take place at Belmore Park.
There will also be many other events that can be enjoyed from various vantage points of the Sydney Harbour, including markets, fundraisers, ferry races, and Australia Day Live 2023, a free concert followed by a spectacular fireworks display over Sydney Harbour.
In Melbourne, 26 January will be marked by a program of events, including Reflect, Respect, Celebrate @ Fed SQ and an open day at Government House. Here, you can enjoy live music and dance performances, free children’s activities, self-guided tours, roving entertainers, food and drink, and community activities.
Also taking place in Melbourne is Share the Spirit Festival, an annual festival celebrating the survival of First Nations peoples through music, art, craft and culture.
You can enjoy Australia Day in Brisbane by heading to South Bank for this year’s Great Australian Bites, complete with food, pop-up stalls, live music and entertainment.
For a day full of adventure and entertainment, Perth has a great program for people to enjoy. The annual Birak Concert boasts a stellar line-up of entertainment, food vendors and more. Later, end the night by watching the City of Light Show at Langley Park, which includes a nighttime drone and fireworks display over the Swan River.
Perth’s annual Invasion Day Gathering and March will also be taking place this year at Forrest Chase, where everyone is invited to join.
The 2023 Australia Day Program in Adelaide will kick off early with Aus Lights on the River and Tindo Utpurndee Sunset Ceremony on 25 January.
Then, early on the morning of 26 January in Elder Park/Tarntanya Wama, Mourning in the Morning Smoking Ceremony invites attendees to listen, learn and pay respects to First Nations peoples through a Welcome to Country, smoking ceremony, speaker’s address and performances by the Iwiri Choir and Nancy Bates.
Amongst the many other exciting events held in Adelaide on 26 January, you can also stand in solidarity with First Nations peoples at the Survival Day March 2023, which will be held in Tarndanyangga/Victoria Square.
In Canberra this year, you can head down to the Harmonie German Club to enjoy Australia In Harmonie. Here you’ll enjoy a program of talented First Nations and German artists, featuring performances by Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows, and renowned aboriginal artist Dale Huddleston.
Also taking place this year is the Afro Aboriginal Showcase Entertainment, a brand-new event featuring art, performances and talks from Aboriginal and African artists and speakers.
For a fast-paced start to Australia Day, sign up for OZ RUN, the Northern Territory’s largest running event. When you register, you’ll have the option to choose either a 2.5km or a 5km walk/run. There’s a Zumba warm-up to get your blood pumping before the run and music playing throughout the course.
You can acknowledge First Nations peoples by attending the Smoking Ceremony at Darwin Waterfront. This event will also feature storytelling and performances by the Larrakia People and the Rirratjingu Dancers from North East Arnhem Land.
If you’re looking for something to do on 26 January in Hobart, check out the Sandy Bay Regatta — now in its 175th year! The event will feature races on the water all day, plus roving entertainers, live music, best-dressed contests, pie-eating competitions and more!
If you feel like staying active, take part in the Kingston Australia Day Swim. Alternatively, show your support for First Nations peoples by participating in the Nipaluna Invasion Day 2023 protest held by the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.
If you’d rather give 26 January a miss, there are several events around this date that you can enjoy instead (that have nothing to do with Australia Day!).
For example, the Triple J Hottest 100, an annual countdown of the year’s 100 best songs as voted by the public, will be broadcast on the Triple J radio station on Saturday 28 January.
Previously, the countdown had been held on Australia Day, but following a public survey in 2018, Triple J changed the date. This year, Triple J is teaming up with the Australian Conservation Foundation — an organisation dedicated to finding solutions to the climate crisis — by donating profits from the sale of this year’s edition of the iconic Hottest 100 t-shirt!