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 is a public holiday across the country, but as it falls on a Sunday in 2020, the following Monday (27 January) will be taken as a public holiday.

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 make a decision on whether to participate. 


Australia Day has become a matter of contention in Australia due to its history and relation to Indigenous communities. Also, in 2020, with tragic, nationwide bushfires still affecting much of the country, many towns and cities are focusing on fundraising events for bushfire relief. Several are foregoing typical Australia Day activities such as fireworks displays, and instead acknowledging those impacted by the fires. 

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 2020 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 term “Invasion Day” being used instead).

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 Generation 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.


At present, the date remains the same, and celebrations, protests, ceremonies and remembrance will take place across the nation on or around 26 January.


In 2020, the New South Wales Government has acknowledged Australia Day as an opportunity to celebrate Australian values of resilience, community, selflessness and courage in the wake of the bushfires. Watch the sunrise over Sydney Harbour at Barangaroo Reserve; the day 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 Aboriginal and Australian flags on top of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Events will run throughout the CBD during the day, too. You can join the Sydney Harbour Splash and swim in one of the world’s most famous harbours, or head to The Rocks and enjoy a day-long carnival at the Sydney Street Party. In the evening you can check out Australia Day Live, with performances by Aussie music icons, underneath the incredible Sydney Opera House. Extra public transport services will be running the whole day to keep you moving.


Following the Official Flag Raising Ceremony, Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD will be packed with people for the Australia Day Parade – a bright, colourful and loud celebration of the city’s diverse community and cultures. In the afternoon, head to the Government House Open Day, with live performances, displays, activities and food stalls spread throughout the grounds, or the RACV Australia Day Festival in Kings Domain Gardens – a much-loved family event. Make sure to check out the 21 Gun Salute at midday at the Shrine of Remembrance.


Starting at 7am in Elder Park (Tarntanya) is a traditional Smoking Ceremony, with acknowledgement held for all First Nations Peoples and Friends. At twilight, Australia Day in the City takes over Adelaide’s CBD. This free event has a parade packed with vintage cars, horses and marching bands; a concert which includes a 21 Gun Salute; and concludes with a fireworks display.


Head to Australia Day at South Bank, a free live music event along the river that ends with the annual Australia Day fireworks. Well-known Brisbane restaurants are also putting together luxurious takeaway hampers for you to enjoy a premium picnic experience.


Following the Morning Ceremony is the Great Aussie Breakfast, where you can indulge in a big barbeque breakfast in Sir James Mitchell Park. Stick around for the Celebration Zone, packed with free activities, food and free sunscreen. The day ends with a fireworks display, and in 2020, the City of Perth Australia Day Skyworks event is aiming to unite in solidarity with those in fire-ravaged areas and raise money for anyone affected by the bushfires.


Starting with flag raising and citizenship ceremonies by the beautiful Lake Burley Griffin, and concluding with a relaxed evening of food vans and music, the ACT Government has decided to forego fireworks in 2020. Instead, the Australia Day Concert will be a fundraiser for charities supporting bushfire recovery across Australia.


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.


The brand new Aus Day at the Gardens event 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.


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, will be broadcast nationwide on the Triple J radio station and online on 27 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 2020, the Hottest 100 has partnered with Greening Australia to raise money for tree-planting projects across the country. Donate $30 and you’ll get some Hottest 100 temporary tattoos to wear on the big day!

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