In 2015 there is discussion about what a national day should be and so when it should be celebrated. Many see January 26 as recalling an important but divisive day for Australians.
This is not a new discussion.
26 January was originally celebrated as Foundation Day for the colony of New South Wales. The other colonies of course had different dates of foundation: Western Australia 1 June; Tasmanians celebrated Regatta Day was in December; South Australia celebrated Proclamation Day on 28 December.
Celebrate may not be the correct term as this report from a country NSW paper, the Temora Star shows there was little enthusiasm for the 26 January:
National holidays resemble certain descriptions of wine inasmuch as they grow in importance and in the estimation of the public with attaining greater age. So long as a great proportion of the inhabitants of a country consists of newly settled arrivals, some difficulty will always be experienced to evoke any enthusiasm over the commemoration of an event which has no meaning in the eyes of the section of the public referred to, and it is therefore obvious that, until the ‘native’ element is numerically the strongest, ‘ native ‘ holidays will only be considered secondary in the estimation of the general public….. In large towns where there always is a numerous element ready to partake of any chance of recreation, the peculiarity here referred to may not be so easily observed, but in any country town in Australia the conservative feeling in this respect is still very strong, and must be manifest to the superficial observer who will take the trouble of comparing the genuine, enthusiastic, and life like enjoyment of Boxing Day for instance, with the very different appearance of affairs on Anniversary or Separation or whatever other name the distinctive day of the respective colony may bear.
South Australia, as a colony settled without convicts, was particularly not in favour of celebrating 26 January as this news report shows:
…January 26 is favored by some as a suitable date for Commonwealth Day, but the arrival of six shiploads of convicts in Sydney Harbor is surely not a circumstance worthy of perpetual commemoration, any part of this Continent, least of all in the favored State of South Australia which was founded on the principle that no convicts should at any time be sent to it, and which therefore has no “birthstain” to commemorate, lament, or erase. The Advertiser (Adelaide) 26 January 1901.
But by 1935, all states of Australia were celebrating 26 January as Australia Day (although it was still known as Anniversary Day in New South Wales). The name ‘Foundation Day’ persisted in local usage
The Australian Natives Association (ANA) was a Victorian based friendly society which lobbied for a national day to be celebrated on the same day for the same reasons in all states and territories. The ANA supported many issues including afforestation, an Australian made goods policy, water conservation, Aboriginal welfare, the celebration of proper and meaningful citizenship ceremonies and the adoption of the wattle as the national floral emblem.
In 1946 the ANA achieved this with all Australian governments agreeing to mark a national day on January 26 and to call it ‘Australia Day’. It looks like a decision that was made in the aftermath of post World War 11 sentiment. May the discussion continue about what is the most appropriate celebration in 2015 and beyond.