We’ll be working on the 26 January … And we’re open to hearing from you…Talking about Australia/Invasion/Survival Day


Since 1994, ‘Australia Day’ has been a public holiday across the country, but this year Dulwich Centre will remain open. As we’ll be working on the day, if you get stuck for something to do you can send us an email or give us a call!

In Australia, the 26th January is a date that means very different things to different people: joy and pride to some, sorrow to others. For some it is associated with the Triple J Hottest 100, cricket and family barbeques. For some, it’s the day they attain Australian citizenship and so has profound significance. While for others, particularly those whose people have lived here for millennia, it is a day of mourning.

Some Australians want to keep the day just as it is. Others want to change the date. Some wonder if it’s a good idea to celebrate a ‘national’ day at all. There’s no other day that brings such diverse responses.

Sometimes when non-Indigenous Australians try to talk with their families about these complexities everyone can end up feeling divided. And in Aboriginal families, it can be a dilemma how to talk about the day with children and what to do together on the day itself.

We’re really interested in hearing from you about:

  • How do you commemorate/celebrate/resist national days?
  • What dates along Australia’s storyline (or the storyline of wherever you live) do you wish to commemorate/celebrate?

To spark ideas, we’ve included some background information about 26 January. There are some quirky things about Australia’s history. We learnt quite a few things as we put this together! We’ve also included some ideas from different members of our faculty/team.

Please now click on the tabs on the left.

What actually happened?
Unsettling Australia Day
Contemporary Views
Where to from here?
Your views

Background: Why is ‘Australia Day’ on 26th January?

The date 26th of January is currently known as ‘Australia Day’ and is associated with the landing of the ‘First Fleet’ on Gadigal country/Sydney Cove.1

This was not, however, the first fleet of boats to reach what is now known as Australia. Yolngu people from north-east Arnhem Land traded with Macassans (Indonesians) for hundreds if not thousands of years. And other Europeans had met with Aboriginal people before 1778:

Between 1606 and 1770, an estimated 54 European ships from a range of nations made contact.    

The ‘First Fleet’ refers to a fleet of 11 ships that left Portsmouth, England, in 1787:

Beginning in 1787 the ships departed with about 778 convicts (586 men, 192 women) …

Seventeen convicts died before departure and another 23 died during the eight-month trip. The vast majority had been sentenced to transportation for theft as a response to poverty – some for the theft of a handkerchief.2 It’s hard to imagine what it must have been like for the convicts on the First Fleet. But the hardships experienced by the men and women imprisoned on those ships are not mourned or remembered on our ‘national day’. 

Please now click on the tabs on the left.

What actually happened?

What actually happened on the 26th January 1788?

This ‘First Fleet’ arrived at Bunnabi (now also known as Botany Bay) a few days before the 26th January, so our ‘national day’ doesn’t commemorate their arrival. Instead, it commemorates when the Union Jack3 flag was raised to mark the beginning of a British settlement.  

The commemoration of this event hasn’t always been called ‘Australia Day’. Initially it was First Landing Day’ or ‘Foundation Day and originally was only recognised in New South Wales.

Unsettling Australia Day

Unsettling Australia Day

Holding a ‘celebration’ on a day that for Indigenous nations represents invasion/devastation has long been challenged and resisted by Aboriginal people. In 1938, the Aborigines Progressive Association (led by Jack Patten and William Ferguson) and the Australian Aborigines League (led by William Cooper) held a mass civil rights gathering and named it the Day of Mourning:   

“In 1888, the centenary of British colonisation, Aboriginal leaders had simply boycotted the Australia Day celebrations. However, this had been ignored by the media … As a result, a more proactive event was planned for the sesquicentenary [in 1938], which the media and governments could not ignore … The day began with a march through the streets of Sydney, which was attended by both Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous supporters … and concluded at the major event on the day, the Day of Mourning Congress, a political meeting for Aboriginal people only … about 1,000 people attended, making it one of the first mass civil rights gatherings … The manifesto opened with a declaration that “This festival of 150 years’ so-called ‘progress’ in Australia commemorates also 150 years of misery and degradation imposed on the original native inhabitants by white invaders of this country” … Day of Mourning protests have been held on Australia Day ever since 1938. However, in recent years, other counter-protests held on 26th January, such as Invasion Day and Survival Day, have been more prominent in Australia.” (Treatyrepublic.net)

Contemporary Views

Contemporary Aboriginal Australian views of the 26th January

The following video conveys contemporary views of what ‘Australia Day’ means to Aboriginal Australians, 79 years since the first Day of Mourning protests:

See also, this poem by Steven Oliver: 


Campaigns to change the date

This unsettling of ‘Australia Day’ and the renaming of Invasion Day/Survival Day and/or Day of Mourning has led to a number of campaigns to change the date of Australia’s national day:

Many people have decided to Change it Ourselves


From Fremantle Council which one year took the historic step to create an alternative One Day event on the 28 January.  

To a newspaper

And even the Gruen Factor (a TV show here in Australia)

Where to from here?

Where to from here?

This brings us to consider what dates along Australia’s storyline we wish to commemorate/celebrate.
We Aussies like our public holidays! There are national public holidays for religious events (Christmas and Easter), for commemorating those lost in wars (ANZAC day), for New Year’s Day, and for Australia Day. But there are also state holidays for the Queen’s Birthday, for horse races, for Labour Day and others, like Picnic Day, we had never heard of until we looked them up!

Here at Dulwich Centre we are a diverse team of non-Indigenous and Aboriginal Australians. We love this country as much as anyone. And we love public holidays as much as anyone. So here are some of our ideas for alternatives/additions:

What about a two-day commemoration/celebration? Sorry Day, the 26th May, which commemorates the Tabling of the Royal Commission on the Stolen Generation, now seems to be taking on a significance that commemorates Aboriginal losses and honours survival. It’s like a continuation of the Day of Mourning. And the 27th May 1967 was when non-Aboriginal Australians voted overwhelmingly (90.77%) for Aboriginal people to be citizens of this country. That’s a date to be proud of. So what about a two-day national holiday – 26 & 27 May? A day of mourning followed by a day of celebration.

How about we celebrate Australia Day on the date the Australian flag was first flown, not the date of the British flag! The current Australian flag was first flown on the 1st of September in Melbourne on Wurundjeri country in 1901. September 1st is actually already called Australian National Flag Day … it’s just that no one knows this. If we made this Australia Day, it could be the weekend of the bye before the finals in the AFL. I reckon that would work well.

I live in Adelaide/Tarndanyangga on Kaurna land. On the 26th January 1788, there were no Europeans anywhere near these lands.5 The South Australian Government is now beginning treaty negotiations with the Aboriginal nations across this state. Local holidays could take place in different parts of the state on the day that the Treaty is signed with the local nation. When the treaty is signed with the Kaurna nation, that day could be honoured here in Adelaide. That really would be a day worthy of celebration.

I’ve only recently learned about the Australia Act which made Australian law independent of British parliaments and courts. This came into force on the 3rd March 1986, so in some ways this date is like an Australian Independence day. At least until Australia becomes a republic! And it’s still hot in early March … so it would work for the barbecues, the beach, beer and the cricket!

There is something significant to me about days of mourning and remembrance. Anzac Day is significant to my family in this way, and will become even more so as it begins to also honour the Frontier Wars’. 

What about a holiday on the day that the White Australia Policy formally ended6? Would that be a date commemorating the acts of the Whitlam Government in 1973?’ 

I wish there was a date on which we would remember the hardships experienced by convicts in this land. What about the 10th of January? This was the date in 1868 that the last convict ship landed in Australia. Rather than celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet, how about we commemorate the lives of all convicts? Perhaps this could be a day when we also focus on the lives of all those currently in Australian prisons and detention centres?

The Aboriginal Flag was first flown at Tarndanyangga/Victoria Square in Adelaide on National Aborigines Day, 12th July 1971. That’s a pretty special date. The Australian Flag and the Aboriginal flag now fly together in the centre of Adelaide. They look fantastic.

Do you reckon eight public holidays about Australian histories would be too much?

Your views

We would like to hear from you …

As we mentioned before, we are really interested to hear from you about:  

      • How you commemorate/celebrate/resist national days
      • What dates along Australia’s storyline (or the storyline of wherever you live) you wish to commemorate/celebrate

On 26 January, you can email us or call us (from 9am–1pm during our regular phone hours). Or leave a comment at the bottom of this page. Thanks! We look forward to hearing from you.



1.For more information about the Gadigal people who are a clan of the Eora nation, see here.

2.To see their names and read what they were convicted of click here – we suggest you read the entry for Thomas Limpus.

3.The first time the Union Jack was raised on this continent was by Lieutenant James Cook on Tuined/Possession Island on August 1770. A quirky fact is that the Union Jack that Lieutenant Cook and Captain Philip raised looked like this:

It wasn’t until 1801 (when the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland merged) that it then looked like this:

Source: https://www.flagsaustralia.com.au/HistoricalFlags.html 

4.  The event on 26th January 1788 on Gadigal land (Sydney Cove) was relatively informal:

… on 26 January 1788 the only event was the anchoring of the ships of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, the running up of a flag and a toast to the King and success of the colony. (See: http://thedirton.therocks.com/2011/04/26-january-1788.html)

A much more formal ceremony and proclamation occurred on the 7th February 1788 (see here). Interestingly, Queen Elizabeth signed the assent of the Australia Act which made Australian law independent of Great Britain on the same date, 7 February, in 1986! That’s one for the trivia buffs! 

5. Even after ‘settlement’, South Australia didn’t commemorate the 26th January as it was seen as a date only significant to NSW. It wasn’t until 1910 that it became a holiday in South Australia.

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. John Steley

    Hi, this is my second contribution here. I support change the date, change the flag and change the anthem. A lot of those opposed to this view, led by our current Prime Minister, respond by saying they are not ashamed of our British heritage. OK, I get that is extremely blinkered, but it is a lesson for all of us with a more enlightened view – stop the “make wrong”. Ask yourself, what is important? Is it important that you are right and “they” are wrong? Or is it important to change the date, change the flag and change the anthem?

  2. Leonie Simmons

    These ‘Talking about Australia/Invasion/Survival Day’ readings and replies have been sitting with me this past week and I have read with both; appreciation and multi threaded pondering – in regards to;
    The histories, familiar and new, as well as the thoughtful responses of others that I felt both a kinship with and a humility from. I have been very moved by the shared reflections. Thank you to all.

    I do not have a history of celebrating the 26th January with nationalistic pride, inclusion and joy. As it is a date that marks a historical context of murder and dispossession of Aboriginal people, for me and to many many Australians – to celebrate this is clearly a shameful and sorrowful event.

    I was born in Vietnam and with gratitude I possess Australian citizenship and consider Australia to be my childhood home. However my relationship with Australia is a long standing ambivalent affair and I recon i am not alone in saying that the role that Nationalism plays on an identity is such a tricky biscuit!

    I feel heartened and drawn to the meaning and poignancy of survival day celebrations. As I read about these days, and the testimonies Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who make this happen – I felt such pride and a connection with the community of people who are committed to acknowledge the existence of Australia’s colonial legacy and meaningfully celebrate the survival histories of Aboriginal people/communities. If Survival Day were a public holiday in Australia, I can only imagine the stories of restoration this would create. It would be with quiet joy, to shield my eyes from the sun and look upon the Aboriginal Flag, perhaps in the company of other flags flying in solidarity triumph on on such a day.

    I have loved ones whom enjoy celebrating the public holiday in a meaningful and connecting way. I am currently not in Australia, and was warmly wished a ‘Happy Australia Day’ from well meaning friends from other countries. Both of these experiences highlighted to me the tension that this event carries and the importance of thoughtful conversations such as this – in order to stand with integrity. I have not always been able to be gracious in these interactions, and there are times when confusion, outrage or sadness brings silence. And I do not that either acts are as constructive as they possibly could be.

    Which is why I am very grateful, for the opportunity to share in the questioning of this complex, consequential and evocative event. It is very helpful to have this resource and it is beautiful to me to feel joined to deconstruct and revise this issue with Aboriginal and non Aboriginal Australians, Australians with immigration histories and people who live in a country where this issue is at the heart of their concern as well.

    This conversation has lead me to think about National Day Celebrations world wide. These commemorations come about almost always at the detriment of non-dominant and/or other communities’ lives and histories. A totalising national day of rejoicing can feel to many to be a horrifying disregard for unspeakable atrocities, and thus by its annual celebration enacts further injustice.

    Encouraged by the conversation here – I have had some interesting and inspiring chats with people from South East Asia, North America and the Middle East about how people create alternative days and ways of acknowledging complex significant historical events in an inclusive and lamentful tradition. There are unique differences between political and social cultures, but I feel lightened that in this perplexing, polarising and weighty issue that perhaps there is a path..unmarked and unformed as it is, that is paving a new way, inviting the sharing of renewed information and innovative creation towards a future time of inclusive honouring to be proud of.

  3. Angela Tsun

    Thank you for sharing the history of Australia’s National Day. It was indeed an invasion day, filled with slaughter, subjugation and sadness for many souls.

    This struck me a lot and I quickly visited websites about China’s National Day on 1 October. I did not have much feeling toward the day except that it is a public holiday. The forming of Central People’s Government and the victory of Mao Zedong also meant the death of many people in the Civil War – nothing to be happy about!

    Today, 1 October means demonstration – a way for people to voice out our opinions, even though the Government may not want to hear about them. It’s still a day for voices.

    I do wish we all live in peace and learn to respect others and honouring the history of different nations.

  4. Justin of the Kalkadoon nation.

    Leading up to and after January 26th, emotions fill me that are hard to describe. Feelings of sadness, anger and frustration surround me before, during and after the day has finished. I know the day is arriving. How could I not? Slogans of ‘coming together’ and ‘unity’ fill billboards and television commercials, Australian flags, singlets and boxing kangaroos fill the shops. There will be invitations to celebrate with people and feast on ‘traditional Australian’ meat-Lamb. But how or why should I celebrate a day that has signifies my people being dispossessed, murdered and our Culture stolen. Make no mistake, this day has contributed to why I cannot speak my traditional language. This day has contributed to my people becoming disadvantaged within different determinants of health. This day has contributed to my people being grossly overrepresented within the criminal justice system and child protection systems. It is a day of sadness and mourning for my people. It is not something to celebrate. Would America celebrate September the 11th annually? I think not.

    Today we flew our flag and wore our colours with pride. We are proud of who we are and where we are from. We fly our flag and wear our colours every day of the year.

    Warming my heart is the non-Aboriginal brothers and sisters who stand alongside us, united in protest to this day, joining us in the collective struggle. This for me, is what ‘coming together’ is about. Taking local, political and social action together in acknowledgment of the right thing to do. Not eating lamb on a BBQ in a singlet covered in Australian flags listening to Australian Crawl. People can do that any day of the week, why wait until January 26th? Maybe thats why this day angers me- the notion of racism, discrimination and exclusion portrayed as patriotism being rubbed in your face for one day, on a day of sorrow for my people.

  5. David Denborough

    I read something today on http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/ about what an Australian Muslim, Armed, said about the 26 January while at an Invasion Day rally in Sydney:

    “Armed agreed … that Australia Day should be cancelled. He said there should be proper reconciliation first and a treaty with the Aboriginal people before any talk about a new date. “There’s a lot that needs to be fixed before we have a date,” he said.”

  6. Kylie Dowse

    I remember getting together with my family when I was young – there was nothing of particular note in a political context about the day. All I was interested in was playing with my many cousins. My family wasn’t especially political, we just got about our business.

    I remember the bicentennial celebrations in 1988. We were holidaying in a caravan park on the central coast of NSW – this was a real extravagance and while I hold great memories of this adventure, I also remember the parade. The parade is emblazoned in memory like an old film, the kind you’d see on one of my grandfather’s treasured slide nights. You see, we all got a bit excited because there was someone dressed up as a likeness of an Aboriginal person from 1788. I don’t know if he was Aboriginal or not. This was well before ‘blackface’ – cultural appropriation wasn’t even a term I’d heard about. In any case, we didn’t see much representation of Aboriginal people anywhere… so we felt we were in for a treat.

    While we weren’t political as a mob, we could be fairly loud on occasion, and we started cheering this fella on. Then, a re-enactment began. The man in the blue and gold jacket and tight white pants pointed his fake rifle at the Aboriginal character and shot him. The Aboriginal character took quite a long time and a great deal of theatrics to finally die. The crowd cheered and the Captain Cook character bowed. We fell silent and my father turned away. “Come on kids,” he said, “let’s go for a swim.”

    I tell this story because it represents a time in my life when the penny began to drop, and I began asking a gazillion questions that my relatives didn’t seem to want to answer. As an adult, a mother and grandmother, I fully appreciate now that this was an act of protection. This can be hard to talk about for everyone.

    Nowadays, I sometimes join with other Aboriginal people from a whole range of mobs at a cultural camp near my home on the Mid North Coast of NSW. There, we’ll sit on the beach, or join hands along the shore. We tell stories of hope and ‘survivance’, women teach children to weave, and we get by.

    I look forward to a time in the not-too-distant future when we can celebrate our nation together.


  7. Jason MacLeod

    On January 26 my family and I go to the survival day march. Last year my 10 Year old son and I joined the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance as they shut down the streets of Brisbane with a big march and defiant dancing at every intersection. It was chance to talk history with my son and make new history, one our family can be proud of as people who are not Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islanders. Then I went home and listened to the Hottest 100. I love this land but January 26 fills me with sadness, more so because there is no Treaty or process for addressing the suffering experienced by the first peoples of Australia. January 26 also reminds me of my on family history, how we were cleared off our land on the Isle of Lewis to make way for sheep. I think we should celebrate Australia on January 1st, when we became a federation.

  8. Manja

    Thanks for opening up a space for this very important conversation. I really like all the possible alternative dates you have proposed, and ( Tileah, Carolynanha and Anni) for getting me thinking more about the complexities of this day: That we want to ‘celebrate with our mates with a barbi,’ but that it’s impossible to do that on what is ‘Invasion day’ to many of us.

    The official website says: “On Australia Day we come together as a nation to celebrate what’s great about Australia and being Australian. It’s the day to reflect on what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation.” http://www.australiaday.org.au /australia-day/about-our-national-day/

    As a young first-generation Netherlands immigrant, it always genuinely puzzled me as to why we were being asked to celebrate ‘Australia’ on the day a British penal colony called ‘New South Wales’ was established.

    As an adult, I have come to find it offensive to celebrate on a date that is a day of mourning for many Australians, and I want it to be changed.

    As a South Australian immigrant, I learned in school that our state was founded as a British province, not a penal colony, by ‘free settler immigrants’ on December 28 1848, and became part of a federated ‘Australia’ on January 1 in 1901. Calls for a Treaty by Aboriginal South Australians challenges this notion of the ‘free settlement’ of South Australia on the grounds that the legal foundation for settlement, which clearly and specifically recognised and protected Aboriginal occupation and ownership, was never adhered to. (Shaun Berg, (ed) 2010, Coming to Terms: Aboriginal Title in South Australia, Wakefield Press) http://www.wakefieldpress.com. au/product.php?productid=152

    As a first-generation immigrant, I would also prefer to celebrate “what we have achieved and what we can be proud of in our great nation” on a date which more appropriately includes the incredible courage, vision, and the years of hard work and sacrifice which my parents and generations of other Immigrants have contributed to Australia.

    I agree with Luke Pearson, who says: “Australia has only had 21 years of holding Australia Day on the 26th of January, surely that isn’t too many years to acknowledge that it was a poor choice and move it to a better day.” http://indigenousx.com.au/what-is-australia-day-for/#.WIgQEBt9600

  9. Tileah Drahm Butler

    When I was a kid, I can’t remember ever having to protect my spirit on a particular day like I do now on Invasion day. That’s because, as I have realised from this page, celebration of this day didn’t start until 1994. I recall feeling particularly resentful about this day since the Cronulla riots in 2005 because for some, since this day the Australian flag is used as a weapon. For others, it feels like a weapon, even if it’s not intended to.

    There is complexity of this day, because I want to have a day where I enjoy a barbi with my mates; to feel as though I’m celebrating all that it means to be a part of this society, on this land that we now call Australia, what is, and always will be Aboriginal land. But this day is a sad day for all.

    On Invasion day in 2017, as usual, we have hung our Aboriginal Flags in various places around the house. I am working tomorrow, and I have written to my workplace requesting that I do not be paid penalty rates, as I do not celebrate this day. This has some people talking. I really like the idea of the 3rd of March, Australian Independence Day, at least until, as you say, we become a republic!

    Thank you so much for having this yarn here. This yarn is spreading like a ripple. The conversation to change the date (#changethedate) is growing. My workmates have told me about the conversations they’ve had with their children about the real meaning of this day. Australian flag car-window-thingies seem to be on the decline. Whole communities of people, and even a city have cancelled festivities! Workplaces are staying open, even on a much much much loved Public Holiday!

    I’ll be ringing Dulwich Centre tomorrow to thank you for your leadership!

    1. Troy Holland

      Thank you Tileah and to everyone who has contributed so far, especially our First Nations Peoples. That 2005 date was significant for me too because it was then that I started noticing racism and something that was being named as patriotism but seemed to be more like white supremacy infiltrating celebrations on January 26 (Kylie’s story about ‘re-enactment’ reminds me these things have been present for much longer). That was when I started to resist celebrating Australia Day on January 26 – this has slowly progressed through me learning more from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders Peoples as I started to work more closely with communities, families and people. As a white Australian of mostly Cornish and Irish descent who was at school in the 80s I received a very white-washed ‘education’ of the history of this land. I’m fortunate and grateful to have learnt a lot more from our First Nations peoples since then, especially about the ongoing effects of invasion, colonisation, stolen generations, slavery, abuse and more. I no longer celebrate Australia Day on January 26 though I must admit I am having the day off. On another note, a colleague and friend shared a post today about ways white allies can support Invasion day rallies – it ended with the hashtags #fuckthedate #changedthesystem . It reminded me of two things. One, that in these conversations Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s voices should be privileged. And two, the importance of continuing grassroots work to try to make a difference in people’s lives. That post made me write a very different comment to what I might have otherwise – instead I am writing one much less focused on my own experience and history. Thanks very much again to all the contributors and to Dulwich Centre for, as always, continuing the conversations.

  10. Carolynanha Johnson

    The older I get I realise more and more what the celebrations of this day means to us as Aboriginal, First Nations people of this country. Australians are drawn into commemorating a day of massacres, rapes, etc which drove fear, terror, despair, loneliness, grief and loss into the physical body, soul and spirit of our people. In the past I have attended this day because friends of mine have got their citizenship. I must say that Aboriginal people werent citizens in their own country until 1967. I was 6 years old then. I remember the many challenges my parents had in negotiating in a world that was foreign to them, a world that was created and built on terror, fear, massacres, control, abuse, rape, a world that was once their own, but no longer theirs to live in peace and harmony in. Today I resist these celebrations and the Australian way of doing things that make it all glamorous and covers up the reality. I am firm in my position around discussions about this day. I make no excuses for the way Aboriginal people respond to this day. We are all on our own journeys, because at the end of the day, Aboriginal Australia has the same history, we have just had individual experiences.

  11. Anni Hine Moana

    The 26th. January is , to me, Invasion Day. I attend a March in Melbourne and we usually then attend the Invasion Day Concert in the Treasury Gardens.
    Sometimes we lay wreaths on the steps of Parliament House.
    Lest We Forget..
    I would like to see more discussion about changing the date that we celebrate our nation in all its cultural diversity.
    I feel that the present date is inappropriate, given the history of genocide. Settler – colonisation has taken away so much from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Celebrating Australian on the date of the arrival of the First Fleet seems insensitive.

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