The History of Australia Day and Five Ways to be an Ally on January 26th

For Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and many other Australians, Australia Day is a day of great sorrow. We asked Evolve co-Directors, Aunty Munya Andrews and Carla Rogers, to share ideas for how we can support First Nations people on January 26th.

“Before we can go there, and talk about Australia Day, we need to understand what it is exactly,” says Carla Rogers. 

She points us to an extract from her and Munya Andrews book, Practical Reconciliation, which reads: 

“Australia Day marks the anniversary of the 1788 invasion of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, NSW, and the raising of the flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip. Compared to 100,000 years of Aboriginal people living, loving and sharing this land with each other, the 230 years since invasion is minuscule. 

It was less than 100 years ago in 1935 that all Australian states and territories adopted use of the term “Australia Day” to mark the date, and less than 30 years ago, in 1994 that the date was consistently marked by a public holiday on that day by all states and territories.”

“So just imagine that tomorrow we are invaded by another country,” proposes Carla, “and that they raise their flag, take possession of our homes, and throw us into purpose-built jails.”

“If that isn’t bad enough, imagine that years later your grandchildren and great-grandchildren are asked to celebrate that day as a national holiday. Unthinkable, really.” 

Learn More About The History of Australia Day

The history of Australia Day started in the early 1800s as Foundation Day, which was first celebrated by politicians and businessmen in private dinners. Australians called it Anniversary Day in 1836 and commemorated the day with the first Anniversary Regatta (which continues to be a part of Australia Day celebrations today). The first official celebrations of Australia Day were held for the first time in 1838, with New South Wales declaring it the first ever national day. Then, in 1946, the Commonwealth and state governments unified the celebrations on the 26th of January as Australia Day.

Before 1994, Australia Day was celebrated on the closest Monday to the 26th of January so that it would always entail a long weekend. But since 1994, the holiday has been commemorated on the actual day of the 26th of January and has become a public holiday across the nation.

For many Australians, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australia Day isn’t something to be celebrated. Instead January 26th the date is known as Invasion Day (or Day of Mourning, Survival Day, or Aboriginal Sovereignty Day), marking an invasion that irrevocably impacted the culture, land, and population of First Nations people. January 26th is a day to acknowledge the loss of life, language, land, and culture that was caused by the European invasion of Australia.

There are mixed perspectives towards celebrating Australia Day on January 26th. A large part of the population recognises it as Australia Day, but for many Indigenous people and their Allies, it’s more aptly acknowledged as Invasion Day or Survival Day.

To many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, there is little to celebrate on Australia Day. Instead, January 26th, is a date in Australia that commemorates a deep loss—of land, family, and sovereign rights. As such, Indigenous people have consistently used the day to fight for their sovereignty and to push for a deeper recognition of their history, whether through protests or calls for inclusion, education, and freedom.

There is a growing movement in Australia to change the date of Australia Day but not everyone agrees.

At Evolve, we believe it is time to have a hard yarn about what it is we wish to celebrate before deciding on an appropriate date. To start the conversation, we offer a Survival Day Webinar on January 25th. At the webinar, we discuss the origins of Australia Day, why January 26th is so problematic, and offer practical actions for Allies. 

In the meantime, January 26th is an opportunity for all Australians to reflect on our shared history and the impact that the historical arrival of Europeans has had, and continues to have, on First Nations people.

How to support First Nations people on January 26th

Now you understand the meaning of Australia Day, and how it might feel for an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person to be asked to celebrate on this day, you are probably wondering “What can I do?”.

The good news is, you can make a real difference by becoming an Ally. Carla explains what it means to be an Ally in the video below:

Five Ways To Be An Ally on Australia Day

 We asked Aunty Munya for her advice. She shared with us that she will be spending January 26th in quiet contemplation and she encourages non-Indigenous Australians to take the following actions:

  1. Find out the name of the Traditional Owners where you live and take time to acknowledge them: Learn how here
  2. Try to understand why an Aboriginal person might feel sad on Australia Day: Learn more here
  3. Consider working as usual and celebrating on a different date: Learn more here.
  4. Support a Survival Day event: Learn more here.
  5. As an act of Allyship, share this resource

To demonstrate your commitment to Allyship, we’d love your help sharing this article and the downloadable resources below, with friends, colleagues and on your social media:

We would also love to have you join us at our Survival Day Webinar on January 25th. The group webinar will give us the opportunity to reflect on Australia’s history, consider how we can create a more inclusive country for all Australians, and become better Allies.

Together, through Cultural Awareness and Practical Reconciliation, we can help create a kinder, more inclusive Australia.

Join Our Survival Day Webinar

Join Aunty Munya and Carla live at 1pm AEDT on January 25th to learn more about how to show up as an Ally on January 26th.

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1 Comment. Leave new

  • Rick Sommerford
    January 19, 2021 11:02 pm

    Thanks Carla and Aunty Munya, your dedication and work towards reconciliation and guidance for indigenous and non-indigenous people is respected and gladly received in Whadjuk Nyoongar country.


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