A recent letter to the editor advocated the « real meaning » of Australia Day and said there were compelling reasons for January 26th that had nothing to do with European regulation.
The information, based on an article on Veteranweb Network by Ray Payne OAM that has been converted into a Facebook post distributed over the Internet (although the original article cannot be found by Google), says the dates for the arrival of the Instead, the celebration is based on the introduction of the Citizenship and Citizenship Act, first enacted on January 26, 1948.
Unfortunately, like so many things circulated on the Internet, the claim does not stand up to scrutiny.
First, the statement said that the date about the 26th appears to be due to the arrival of Captain Cook and that it was not the first fleet to have landed on January 18, 1788.
According to an article in News Wire’s AAPs FactCheck, Professor Frank Bongiorno of the Australian National University’s School of History emailed AAP FactCheck to announce that Australia Day was on January 26 to mark the date of the first fleet under the leadership of Captain Celebrating Arthur Phillip arrived at Sydney Cove in 1788.
He is assisted by constitutional expert Professor Helen Irving, who confirmed that January 18th was a significant day but not the day they landed in Sydney.
« The first boat in the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay on January 18, 1788, but the fleet then moved to Port Jackson (which became Sydney), where the British flag was hoisted on January 26, 1788, » she told AAP FactCheck.
« It was the arrival of the first fleet in 1788 that marked 1988 (the bicentenary), not the arrival of Cook. »
And if you’re looking for more evidence, the National Library keeps a historical diary of Arthur Bowes Smyth, a surgeon who sailed on the Lady Penrhyn as part of the First Fleet. His writings document the journey from Portsmouth to the new colony.
« January 26th … around 7 pm we reach the mouth of Broken Bay in Port Jackson and sail into the bay in which the settlement is to be built … the most beautiful terraced lawns and grottoes with various plantations of the tallest and most stately trees I have ever seen in the gardens of a nobleman in England cannot surpass in their beauty those which nature has now presented in our opinion, « says the diary.
It seems an undeniable confirmation that January 26th was the day Australia was officially settled by the English and that for years it provided plenty of fodder for the celebration of our National Day.
According to the Australia Day official website, the story of an Australia Day celebration began as early as 1800, when early almanacs and calendars and the Sydney Gazette named January 26th as the first landing or founding day. In Sydney, festive drinking and later anniversary dinners were common, especially among emancipists.
In 1871, the Australian Natives’ Association, which was formed as a friendly society to provide medical, disease and funeral services to natives of European descent, became an avid advocate of the Federation of Australian Colonies within the British Empire on a national holiday on the 1880s January 26th.
Their campaign lasted until 1930 when their Victorian branch launched a campaign to celebrate January 26th across Australia as Australia Day on a Monday, which meant a long weekend. The Victorian government approved the proposal in 1931 and the other states and territories followed in 1935.
They go on to state that the Australian Natives’ Association set up an Australia Day Celebrations Committee (later known as the Australia Day Council) in Melbourne in 1946 to educate the public about the importance of Australia Day. Similar bodies emerged in the other states, which alternately acted as the Federal Australia Day Council.
The definitive evidence that Australia Day was celebrated before the Citizenship Act came into effect on January 26, 1949 comes from the mouth of the man who made the legislation, Immigration Secretary Arthur Calwell.
« When this law comes into effect, it will be promulgated on Australia Day, January 26, 1949, and the occasion will be a memorable one, » he said, as quoted in Hansard.
Not as Australia Day, ON Australia Day. Professor Irving reiterated the point when speaking to AAP.
« The date was not chosen to celebrate the proclamation of the Nationality and Citizenship Act of 1948, » she said.
« Rather, January 26 was chosen as the date for the law to be promulgated, as it was already celebrated as Australia Day. »
There are other problems with the original claim about what the legislation actually did.
Prof. Irving said that anyone born in Australia before the Nationality Act 1920 was already considered a British subject under general law.
« The Citizenship Act of 1920 simply put this principle of common law into law for the first time, » she said.
The 1949 legislation merely added that people could become Australian citizens for the first time to encourage European migration after World War II. In fact, these Australian citizens were still considered British citizens until they were revoked in 1984.
According to Professor Irving, Indigenous citizens who were now considered Australian citizens were still subject to many of the special laws that applied to them as Australian Aborigines, and those laws were often oppressive and discriminatory.
It was not until 1962 for Indigenous Australians who were not granted prior exemptions (mostly from military service) to vote, and the 1967 referendum established their right to be included in the census.
In addition, the 1949 legislation was used as a catalyst for White Australia’s multi-vicious policies, and while Mr Calwell’s infamous quote in Parliament about « Two Wongs Don’t Know » is often out of context, it was his support for the policy strong and was one of the factors that led him to be replaced by Gough Whitlam in the 1960s.
So we’re back to first place: Australia Day is still a celebration of the landing of the First Fleet in Port Jackson and the establishment of a settlement. It is the same day that for our indigenous community, their land and culture were occupied by a European settlement.
And regardless of what you think, this is a feeling that is backed by established historical fact and remains a real pain point.
If Australia Day is really going to be a day when all Australians come together as it should be, then why are we shedding light on our indigenous people by telling them their opinion doesn’t matter?
Why are we spreading stories that, even if not intended, tell us not to worry about the naysayers because they got it all wrong?
Instead, why don’t we find a truly national day to leave behind and really become a nation that, as the anthem now says, is one and free?
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