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 2021, the Australia Day public holiday falls on Tuesday 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 2021, with a global pandemic still limiting the number of people who are allowed to attend mass gatherings, many celebrations will look slightly different or even take place online.

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, as reflected in the 2021 Australia Day campaign. 

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!


Australia Day in Sydney begins with the WugulOra Morning Ceremony – a traditional Aboriginal smoking ceremony and dance – followed by a performance of the national anthem and the raising of both the Australian Aboriginal and the Australian flags on top of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Vigil, held on the evening of 25 January at Barangaroo Reserve, will also provide an opportunity for reflection upon the significance of this time for Indigenous Australians.

An Invasion Day protest and march will be held at The Domain on the morning of 26 January. Organisers ask protestors to wear face masks, bring water and hand sanitiser, and register online beforehand. A range of other activities will take place during the day, including musical performances streamed live from the Sydney Opera House in the evening, followed by fireworks at Darling Harbour.


Although many events in Melbourne, such as the traditional Australia Day Parade and Government House Open Day, won’t be going ahead in 2021 due to the challenges presented by COVID-19, you can check out the Royal Australian Artillery’s 21 Gun Salute at the Shrine of Remembrance.

Alternatively, check out the Share The Spirit Festival at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, featuring a range of exciting performances from First Nations musicians. With limited capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions, you can also watch the festival online at the Share The Spirit Facebook page. 


Starting early in the morning in Elder Park (Tarntanya) is a traditional Smoking Ceremony, with acknowledgement held for all First Nations peoples and friends. The annual Survival Day 2021 concert, hosted by the Tandanya National Aboriginal Institute, features a vibrant array of music performances all afternoon. At twilight, Australia Day in the City festivities are ready to entertain you at Elder Park, on the banks of the River Torrens. You can also show your support for First Nations people at the Survival Day March 2021.


This year, the River City’s beautiful Australia Day fireworks at South Bank have been moved to the RNA Showgrounds in Bowen Hills. Fireworks and fun activities (and even a summertime pool party!) will also take place outside the city in places like Bongaree and Redcliffe, and also on the Sunshine Coast and the Gold Coast.

Brisbane will also host an Indigenous flag-raising event at Musgrave Park in the morning, followed by a protest rally starting from Queens Gardens. Plus, you can provide much-need support for First Nations-owned businesses at a pop-up market. As always, make sure you wear face masks and bring water and sun protection as it gets hot in the sunny state of Queensland! 


Following the Morning Ceremony is the Great Aussie Breakfast, where you can indulge in a big barbeque breakfast in Sir James Mitchell Park, organised by the City of South Perth. The annual Birak Concert boasts a stellar line up of entertainment, workshops, food vendors and more at Supreme Court Gardens.

You can walk in solidarity with First Nations people at a Change the Date Invasion Day rally, starting at Forrest Place in the afternoon.


Australia Day celebrations in Canberra start with a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony by the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin, and conclude with a relaxed evening of music and dinner from local food trucks. The Survival Day rally may have been cancelled this year, but there is a screening of the new film High Ground, set against the stunning landscapes of 1930s Arnhem Land, at the Dendy Cinema.


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 3 or 5km walk/run. There’s a Zumba warm-up to get your blood pumping before the run and music playing throughout the course, followed by a free sausage sizzle once you cross the finish line.

Survival Day protests will take place at Civic Park in Darwin.


Aus Day at the Gardens takes place in the amazing Royal Tasmanian Botanical Gardens. The music line-up celebrates Tasmanian talent, and you can also enjoy craft beer, Tasmanian wine and local food vans. There’s also an Australia Day Breakfast on the Bellerive Boardwalk and the Kingston Australia Day Swim!

Alternatively, join a Change the Date rally at either Parliament House in Hobart, or Davenport Bluff, both with a midday start. As usual, social distancing rules apply!

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 23 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 2021, the Hottest 100 partnered with Lifeline, a leading provider of crisis support across the country. You can help by donating or buying this year’s Hottest 100 shirt.

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