Coinciding with the fireworks and backyard barbeques, a national debate often rages over the history and meaning of Australia Day.
Professor Jane Lydon, Wesfarmers Chair in Australian History at The University of Western Australia, said there are often misconceptions about the history of the day.
“The First Fleet actually arrived on Australian soil on the 18 of January 1788 but didn’t like it– so they moved the whole fleet around the corner to Sydney Cove,” Professor Lydon said. “The French arrived 5 days later, under La Perouse.”
“So January 26 commemorates the second landing – and only the male convicts were unloaded that day. The women were then disembarked on February the sixth precipitating what would have been a gang-rape scenario, the horror of which is unimaginable.”
“So a more accurate name for the event on 26 January might be the ‘Second Landing of Male Convicts Day.’”
Australia Day has also been shuffled around in recent history.
On July 30 1915, an Australia Day was held to raise funds for the First World War effort. Then Australia’s landing at Gallipoli earlier that year was to launch the commemoration of another national day: Anzac Day on April 25.
Other colonies commemorated their own imperial foundations. In Western Australia, Foundation Day on June 1 celebrated the arrival of white settlers in 1829.
In 1935, all states adopted a common date and name for Australia Day; January 26 and by the 1940s a national public holiday was in place.
“Since 1938 however, Aboriginal Australians have pointed out that, from their perspective, the arrival of the British is not a cause for celebration: on the contrary, it ushered in an era of dispossession. We now know that Indigenous Australians had been in possession for at least 60,000 years,” Professor Lydon said.
“If we wish to include the First Australians we must acknowledge that for them the arrival of the First Fleet is a day of mourning.
“I vote for an Australia Day date of May 9, the day in 1901 when the first federal parliament house was founded in Melbourne – this more accurately marks the moment of shared nationhood.”
David Stacey (UWA Media and Public Relations Manager) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 32 637 716