26 January, Australia Day: All the facts

Commemorating the anniversary of the day in 1788 when the first British fleet, under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, arrived in Sydney Cove, Australia Day is celebrated nationwide each year on 26 January. Here is our look at all of the Australia Day facts.
Australia Day at the beach. Photo: amophoto_au/Shuterstock
Australia Day at the beach. Photo: amophoto_au/Shuterstock

Australia Day facts

Australia Day is a national public holiday at the height of summer, on which the majority of the country's population comes together to celebrate the Australian way of life. To mark the occasion, family and friends congregate to enjoy barbecues, play backyard cricket and head to the beach. The nation’s bars and pubs are packed with revellers and a variety of special events and parties are held in towns and cities throughout the nation. 

However, for much of Australia’s indigenous and aboriginal communities, 26 January is a day of protest as it signifies the date when they began to suffer oppression and be dispossessed of their lands. Many indigenous Australians want the date to be changed, along with their supporters who agree that holding the national holiday on a different date would be more inclusive and sensitive.

In 2018, the alternative national Australian radio station, Triple J, broadcast its Hottest 100 countdown of listeners’ favourite songs, long-established as the unofficial soundtrack for Australia Day, on 27 January instead, due to the "growing dialogue around Indigenous recognition and perspectives on 26 January”.

In 2019, 26 January falls on a Saturday, so the Australia Day holiday will be observed on Monday 28 January.

Tall Ships in Sydney Harbour.Tall Ships in Sydney Harbour. Photo: Shutterstock

Australia Day celebrations

Major celebrations in Sydney see multiple activites taking place on the waters of the city’s harbour, as the Aboriginal and Australian flags fly side by side over Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Ferrython sees the city’s ferries race from Circular Quay out to Shark Island before heading back back to finish at the Harbour Bridge. The Harbour Parade features a flotilla of disparate vessels decked out with multicoloured flags and streamers taking to the waves. 

The multiple sails of the elegant Tall Ships make an impressive sight as they sail across the harbour, while overhead, military jets, Navy helicopters and Qantas airliners put on a dramatic aerial display. In the evening, live outdoor concerts take place at Circular Quay and the Sydney Opera House, before a breathtaking firework display lights up the skies.

In addition, on the day many of the city’s museums have free or half-price admission. The Yabun festival, held on the traditional territories of the Gadigal people in Sydney, is a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures that acts as an antidote to the primarily white Australia Day celebrations.

Brighton beach in Melbourne.Brighton beach in Melbourne. Photo: Shutterstock

Australia day festivities

In Brisbane, head to the verdant waterfront setting of River Quay Green to enjoy an afternoon of free live music and DJs, before the evening fireworks display featuring pyrotechnic jet ski performers. At the nearby Story Bridge Hotel in Kangaroo Point, the long-established Australia Day Cockroach Races event offers a packed line-up of live music, street entertainers, themed competitions, and, yes – cockroach racing.

The expansive lawns at Langley Park on Perth city centre’s riverfront are the place to enjoy family-friendly daytime fairground rides and entertainment. At nearby Supreme Court Gardens, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures are celebrated with music and dance performances, art and food. In the evening, the Australia Day Skyworks attracts huge crowds to the Perth foreshore to watch the spectacular display, which is the nation’s largest Australia Day event.

In Melbourne city centre, Swanston Street is lined with thousands of people who come to see the annual Australia Day parade featuring marching bands and community groups representing the full diversity of the city’s ethnic communities. Harbour Esplanade at the coastal city’s Docklands is the place to gaze upwards at the firework display that tops off the district’s daytime celebrations with street artists, live entertainment and a food market. 

Australia Day in the City is Adelaide’s major celebration taking place in the city’s Elder Park. Kicking off with a twilight parade featuring marching bands, numerous community groups, vintage cars, floats and giant characters, the entertainment continues with a free family concert before reaching its dazzling fireworks finale.

Australia Day Parade in Adelaide.Australia Day Parade in Adelaide. Photo: Shutterstock

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