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Australia Day

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Margaret Harrison-Smith Law and Government Group 12 December 1991

Parliamentary Research Service

Background Paper Number 31 1991

Australia Day

This paper has been prepared for general distribution to Members of the Australian Parliament. Readers outside the Parliament are reminded that this is not an Australian Government document, but a paper prepared by the author and published by the Parliamentary Research Service to contribute to consideration of the issues by Senators and Members. The views expressed in this Paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Parliamentary Research Service and are not to be attributed to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

ISSN 1037-2938

Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 1991

Except to the extent of the uses permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means including information storage and retrieval system, without the prior written consent of the Department of the Parliamentary Library, other than by Members of the Australian Parliament in the course of their official duties.

Published by the Department of the Parliamentary Library, 1991

Contents Introduction ............................................................................................................................................ 4

26 January: A Historical Perspective ....................................................................................................... 4

26 January: An Evaluation ....................................................................................................................... 5

An Alternative Day? ................................................................................................................................ 6

A Federal Link ? ................................................................................................................................... 6

Anzac Day ............................................................................................................................................ 8

Concluding Comment.............................................................................................................................. 9


Australia Day is recognised as a public holiday in all Australian States and Territories.1 Although it has never been officially so designated, Australia Day is widely regarded by Australians as their 'national day'.2

The purpose of this paper is to examine the suitability of Australia Day as our national day and to canvass the appropriateness or otherwise of a number of alternative dates.

26 January: A Historical Perspective

Following the decision of the British government to transport prisoners to New South Wales, the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay between 18 and 20 January 1788 under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip. Most of the 1030 people on board were convicts.

Not impressed with Botany Bay as an anchorage, nor with the potential of the land around it, Captain Phillip sailed northwards along the coast and found the entrance to Port Jackson, subsequently establishing a settlement at Sydney Cove, six miles inside the harbour. The move to Sydney Cove was completed by 26 January 1788. The British flag was unfurled at the head of Sydney Cove, toasts were drunk, and volleys of musketry fired. The formal proclamation of the Colony did not take place, however, until 7 February.

It appears that 26 January was first proclaimed a public holiday in 1838, 50 years after the arrival of the first fleet.

Some form of celebration had been held in Sydney however as early as 1817 and 1818 and possibly even earlier. A notice in the Sydney Gazette of 1 February 1817 refers to a dinner party given for the purposes of celebrating the Anniversary of the Institution of the Colony, and on 24 January 1818, Governor Macquarie is recorded as ordering that on the Monday following 26 January, a salute of 30 guns should be fired from the battery at Dawes Point, Sydney, in honour of the 30th anniversary of the landing. He also directed that:

the Artificers and Labourers in the immediate service of the Government be exempted from work on Monday next, in honour of the memorable occasion, and that each of them receive an extra allowance from the Government …

In 1888, the first centenary of Australian settlement was celebrated with great enthusiasm, particularly in Sydney, where the celebrations included ceremonies, parades, exhibitions fireworks and regattas, the unveiling of a statue in honour of Queen Victoria, and the permanent reservation of Centennial Park for public use. For the first time also, the seven governors of Australia and New Zealand met together whilst visiting the Centennial Agricultural Exhibition.

The centenary was also celebrated in other Australian colonies. In Melbourne, there was a Centennial International Exhibition which remained open from August 1888 until February 1889 and attracted nearly two million visitors.3

From 1888 onwards, Tasmania celebrated 26 January as Foundation Day,4 and it seems probable that at this time or a little later, the practice travelled to other States. By 1902, 26 January was listed as a public holiday in Victoria5 and in Western Australia.6 Phugh's (Queensland) Official

1 There are 10 standard public holidays in Australia: the sources of rights and obligations in relation to such holidays are: statutes together with appropriate gazettal of public holidays; and awards and agreements. The relevant statutes are the Banks and Bank Holidays Act 1912 (NSW), Bank Holidays Act 1958 (Vic), Bank Holidays Act 1919 (Tas), Holidays Act 1910 (SA), Public and Bank Holidays Act 1972 (WA), Holidays Ordinance 1958 (ACT), Public Holiday Act 1981 (NT), Holidays Act 1983 (Qld). Awards and agreements normally refer to the prescribed public holidays by name and thereby extend the holidays to employees under the award. 2

It might be noted in this regard that the Commonwealth Parliament does not have legislative power in this area. 3 A Documentary History of Australia, Volume 3, Colonial Australia, 1875-1900, Frank Crowley, Nelson, 1980, p.243 and following. 4

Walch's Tasmanian Almanac 1888. 5 Victorian Municipal Directory 1902. 6

Western Australian Year Book 1902-4.

Almanac for 1905 also gave Foundation Day, 26 January, as a public holiday. In contrast, it was not until 1911 that the holiday was observed in South Australia.7

In spite of this, as late as 1921, it was disclosed at a meeting of Commonwealth and State Ministers that although a day's holiday was by then granted in all States to mark Australia's anniversary, considerable liberties were taken as to how and when it should be celebrated.

The suggestion that a day, to be named Australia Day, should be observed annually by the Australian people instead of or in addition to the Anniversary Day or Foundation Day of the various States, appears to have emanated from a conference of the Australian Natives' Association (ANA) in Adelaide in 1930.8

In 1931, Victoria led the way in adopting the name ‘Australia Day': a similar decision in the same year by NSW was reversed however, and in that State, it was not till 1946 that ‘Anniversary Day' was again designated ‘Australia Day'. In that year, the Australia Day Council was formed in Melbourne to foster national appreciation of the significance of the day. Since 1946, 26 January has been recognised throughout Australia as Australia Day and a public holiday taken on or around that date.

The National Australia Day Council has for some time now been urging the celebration of Australia Day on 26 January irrespective of whether or not that day is a Monday. The Australian Bicentenary, during which Australia Day was celebrated throughout Australia on Tuesday, 26 January, provided considerable impetus to this campaign. Indeed, three States9 and the two Territories have taken the legislative action necessary to achieve this result permanently.

26 January: An Evaluation

Although 26 January was favoured by such groups as the ANA, on the basis of its undoubted place in early Australian history, and also, the fact that it had been celebrated in Eastern Australia for many years to mark the anniversary of the `institution' or ‘establishment' of the colony of NSW, its appropriateness remains the object of some contention.

First, from an historical perspective, it might be noted that the date does not:

 represent the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet - which in fact arrived in 3 groups on 18,19 and 20 January 1788;  mark the date of the formal annexation of NSW by Britain - as noted, that occurred on 7 February;  mark Governor Phillip's first landing - he had landed on 22/23 January;  represent the date on which possession of the country as a whole had been taken - that

was done by Captain James Cook, its discoverer, on 23 August 1770, after he had already taken possession of several places on the coast, including Botany Bay.

Second, apart from the fact that each of the other States had its own commencement or (in the case of Queensland and Victoria for instance) its separation day, the obvious associations with the arrival of Australia's first convicts might well be deemed by some of the other States, particularly South Australia, to represent a sufficient reason for leaving the celebration of 26 January to New South Wales alone.

The significance of these two factors in assessing the suitability of 26 January as our National Day should probably not be over-estimated. It may be considered that 26 January has become so firmly entrenched in the public mind as a date of significance that it would be unlikely that a shift to 7 February, for example, would have a significant impact upon the event. It might also be considered inappropriate and indeed somewhat ironic, to attach too much significance to State jealousies when fixing on a National Day. If 26 January is viewed in a general sense as the date

7 South Australian Directory 1911. 8 During the Depression of the 1890s, the number of native-born Australians in the population began to overtake the number born elsewhere. ` In acknowledgment of this changing relationship, the Australian Natives Society (later Association) was formed in Melbourne in 1871 as a friendly and mutual insurance society. It grew slowly, mainly in the gold field towns in Victoria, developing cultural and political interests as nationalism became more prominent and fashionable.' Beverley Kingston, The Oxford History of Australia, Volume 3, 1860-1900, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1988, p.112. The Association was to become a powerful proponent of Federation. 9

NSW, Queensland and Western Australia.

commemorating first white settlement in Australia, it would seem broadly relevant to all States and Territories.

There are also difficulties with 26 January from the perspective of Aboriginal Australians, and, to a lesser extent probably, with respect to the increasing percentage of our population which arrived post-World War II.

As regards the latter, it might be noted that in recent years, whilst the Australia Day holiday continues to be celebrated on or around 26 January marking the first white settlement in Australia, the emphasis has been increasingly directed towards the celebration of our achievements and the fostering of our national self esteem. As reported in 1984,10 the aim of the National Australia Day Council is "to give Australians a clearer sense of national identity and purpose and strengthen national unity and pride".11 The Day has also become a focal point for Australian naturalisation ceremonies. This diminishing emphasis upon the historical significance of the Day would clearly seem to lend more significance to Australia Day for post-World War II migrants, for whom the day might als celebration of a new life in a new nation. Possibly too, its palatability to Aboriginal Australians is enhanced.

With this latter group however, sensitivity to the day remains. For many Aboriginals, 26 January continues to mark the day upon which they lost their rights and their country to the white invaders. Demonstrations against the 1988 Bicentennial celebrations by some Aboriginal Australians were reflective of Aboriginal sentiment in this regard.

It seems apparent that an attempt to make the holiday more historically accurate in terms of its settlement and discovery, such as by transferring it from 26 January to 7 February12 would do little to overcome fundamental Aboriginal objections to white settlement, or indeed, to increase its relevance to the current Australian population as a whole, having regard particularly, to the impact of post World War II immigration.

An Alternative Day?

It may be, therefore, that another event in our history might be more appropriately linked with the celebration of our national day. Possible alternatives include:

- a date in our federal constitutional history - Anzac Day.

A Federal Link ?

An approach, which would have the advantage of substantially reducing current historical objections by Aboriginal Australians by overcoming the inevitable historical nexus with white settlement, would be to link the celebration of Australia Day with a significant event in the federal constitutional history of Australia.13

In forging this link, however, it is important to note that Aboriginal Australians were not granted key rights enjoyed by other Australians until well after Federation. Notable in this regard is the right to vote as electors of the Commonwealth, a right not given to Aboriginal Australians until 1962.14

Moreover, the progress towards federation is littered with an assortment of events of varying significance. To isolate one, apart from 1 January, 1901, the date of the promulgation of the Federal Constitution, is difficult.

10 The Courier Mail, 21 January 1984 and confirmed to be still current by an officer of the Department of the Arts, Sport, the Environment, Tourism and Territories. 11

The Australian of the Year Awards are also reflective of this emphasis. The Awards which recognise outstanding achievement in the national or international arena are presented each Australia Day. 12

As suggested for example, by C.H. Currey M.A. LLD, (1957) 43 Royal Australian Historical Society Journal, pp. 153-174. 13 A useful chronology of the Australian Federation Movement is set out in L.F. Crisp, The Later Australian Federation Movement 1883- 1901: Outline and Bibliography, SOCPAC Printery Canberra, 1979. 14

The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1962.

It has been suggested that 1 August, 1893, the date of the Special Conference in Corowa might be worthy of consideration. This date marked the culmination of the efforts of popular federation movements following the failure to bring to fruition the Bill to constitute the Commonwealth of Australia, developed in 1891 at the National Australasian Convention.15

In consequence of the failure, Edmund Barton, the NSW Premier, who assumed Henry Parkes's official mantle as `leader' of the federation movement, turned his endeavours to the public arena and prompted the formation of Federal Leagues in several country towns. In July 1893, a central body called the Australasian Federation League was founded in Sydney with a Constitution which pledged it:

to advance the cause of Australian Federation by an organisation of citizens owning no class distinction or party influence, and using its best energies to assist Parliamentary action, from whatever source proceeding, calculated to further the common aim of Australian patriotism.

Branches subsequently developed all around the colony of NSW, and in Victoria, although in that colony, the major impetus came from the Australian Natives' Association.

On 31 July and 1 August 1893, a conference of Federation Leagues and ANA branches was held at Corowa, and from it emerged a highly significant resolution proposed by Dr. John Quick, a representative of the Bendigo Branch of the ANA:

That in the opinion of this Conference, the Legislature of each Australasian colony should pass an Act providing for the election of representatives to attend a Statutory Convention or Congress to consider and adopt a Bill to establish a Federal Constitution for Australia, and upon the adoption of such Bill or measure it be submitted by some process of referendum to the verdict of each colony.

The fact that this resolution was passed unanimously ensured the historical significance of the Corowa Conference. On his return to Bendigo, Dr Quick elaborated the resolution into a definite scheme, framing an ‘Australian Federal Congress Bill' which he submitted to the Bendigo League, which duly adopted it.

This Bill, in its main features, became the basis of the enabling Acts which were subsequently passed in all the Colonies and by means of which federation ultimately ensued.

However, in an overall context, it has been observed that:

The novel and all important element in this proposal was the idea of mapping out the whole process in advance by Acts of Parliament',16

and that:

… equally important, but not absolutely new, was the principle of the direct popular initiative in the election of the Congress or Convention',17

but that:

… though Dr. Quick's scheme meant a new start, it did not mean that the work already done was to be wasted. It was intended to supersede, not the Commonwealth Bill, but the process of dealing with that Bill; not the work of the Sydney Convention, but the abortive attempts to complete that work. The assembling of a second convention - the expediency of having it elected by the people - the necessity of a final referendum - had already been suggested in connection with the Bill of 1891. What had not hitherto been suggested was that all these steps should first be pre-ordained by Enabling Acts in all the colonies.18

It may be argued therefore, that whilst the Corowa conference undoubtedly represented something of a turning point in the federation movement, it should most appropriately be

15 In 1890 a conference of Premiers and Ministers met in Melbourne to discuss the issue of federation. The outcome was a National Australasian Convention held in Sydney in 1891 and attended by delegations appointed by the legislatures of the Australian Colonies and New Zealand. A draft constitution was prepared for approval by the 7 Parliaments and enactment by the UK government. The NSW Parliament failed to approve the draft however, and the whole issue was substantially dropped in Government circles. 16

Quick and Garran, The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, Legal Books, Sydney, 1976, p.154. 17

Ibid. 18 Ibid.

categorised as one development, albeit a significant one, amongst a series of developments spanning some 30 odd years rather than a pivotal event per se.

In contrast, 1 January 1901 stands out as the culmination of all previous efforts, the day upon which the six States were united in their federal intent.

The major consideration against celebrating Australia Day on 1 January would seem to be its coincidence with New Year's Day, already recognised throughout Australia as a national public holiday.

On the other hand, it could be argued with equal conviction, that to celebrate Australia Day on New Year's Day would add significantly to the meaning of the latter, an essentially secular holiday as celebrated in Australia, a day presently devoted to a generally unstructured assortment of sporting and other events, and in many respects, something of an anticlimax to the traditional New Year's Eve festivities.

Such a course would also effectively reduce the number of annual public holidays recognised in this country, a consequence which could well be regarded in some quarters as a distinct advantage.

May 9, the official opening of the first sitting of the Australian Federal Parliament in Melbourne in 1901, (and subsequently, in the 'old' Parliament House in Canberra in 1927, and most recently, in the new 'Parliament House in 1988), has also been noted as a possible Australia Day. Whilst it could be argued that it represents not so much the culmination but the consequence of the federal movement it could, on the other hand, be said to mark the commencement of our national democracy, and, in consequence, to prompt sentiments of involvement in the democratic process. Moreover, it is non-military, is not presently a public holiday and, for Aboriginals, has no connection with white settlement in Australia. May 9 probably suffers the disadvantage however of being generally less well known than 1 January as a landmark in our federal history.

Anzac Day

Anzac Day is recognised as a public holiday Australia-wide. It undoubtedly represents a significant milestone in our national history.

Dr Charles Bean, the Official War Historian for the Gallipoli campaign, was amongst the first to give voice to the oft-repeated opinion that on 25 April 1915 `the consciousness of Australian nationhood was born'.

More recently, similar sentiments were expressed by NSW RSL President, Sir Colin Hynes, when he referred to 25 April 1915 as:

… that immortal day when the young men of Australia by their deeds and sacrifice demonstrated to the world at Gallipoli that Australia was truly a nation.19

In his address at Gallipoli in 1990 to mark the seventy fifth anniversary of the ANZAC landing, the Prime Minister, Mr Hawke, chose to express this nationalism in terms of `mateship'.20

It is also sometimes argued that rather than marking the commencement of Australian nationhood, Gallipoli represents a spreading of Australian nationalistic sentiment from convicts, Irish born, bushmen and the working class to a wider cross-section of the Australian community.21

In terms of the ritual of its celebration, Anzac Day clearly embodies a number of complicated elements: first, there is grieving for those slain in war.22 Albeit with a military edge to it,23 there is

19 Comments made at the 1990 Anzac Day ceremony, Hyde Park, Sydney, as reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 26 April 1990. 20

The Age, 26 April 1990. 21 'In particular, it might be argued that the war produced a marked development in Australianism amongst the Protestant middle class and the non-Labor parties', G. Serle, 'The Digger Tradition and Australian Nationalism', Meanjin Quarterly, June 1965, pp.149-158 at p.151. 22

Not only, of course, the Gallipoli campaign. 23 P. Kitley refers to the `war-like behaviour in the ritualised procession of the march', `Anzac Day Ritual, Journal of Australian Studies, no. 4, June 1979: pp.58-69 at p.66.

also, in the march, something of the national pride referred to above. Finally, in the relaxed traditions of the latter half of the day, there is something of the atmosphere shared by other Australian public holidays.

Against this background, in assessing the appropriateness of designating Anzac Day our national day, the following are amongst the considerations which appear relevant.

First, although to the extent that the Gallipoli campaign was a defeat and was accompanied by disastrous loss of life, its remembrance does not represent glorification of war. However whilst in part, Anzac Day is sombre in memory of those who fell during that and subsequent campaigns, there are nonetheless, undeniable military undertones. Arguably, this military link is emphasised and the original Anzac `myth' increasingly dissipated by the expansion of Anzac Day to encompass more recent Australian military action.

For an ostensibly peace-loving nation, this link may be considered inappropriate if it were to be associated with our national day.

Further, Anzac Day is primarily a `male' celebration: whilst women played an important role in all the wars in which Australia has participated, this involvement has often been less direct and far less readily associated with the development of Australian nationalism and concepts of mateship.

Many women could be ill at ease in this often overtly male country by the establishment of a day so fraught with masculine overtones as our national day.

Moreover, Australia was not the only nation fighting at Gallipoli: most notably, New Zealand was also part of the Anzac force and has set aside 25 April as a day of remembrance.

Furthermore, it remains doubtful whether assumption of ‘national day' status by Anzac Day would increase its relevance to many who have arrived in this country since the World War II,24 or to Aboriginal Australians.

As regards the latter, it is worth noting the claims, such as those of Major Robert Hall, a historian with the Australian Defence Force Academy,25 that Aborigines have been excluded from the digger legend. Major Hall also observes that whilst between 300-400 Aborigines got around the discriminatory ban on the enlistment of non-Europeans in World War I, the galleries of the Australian War Memorial - the national shrine of the ‘digger myth' - give no hint of the extent of Aboriginal military service.

Aboriginal Australians may in consequence feel that Anzac Day has little to offer them as our national day.

Finally, whilst it might be argued that to make Anzac Day our national day would ensure its continued existence, particularly as the numbers of original Anzacs rapidly dwindle, it is possible that the unique character of the day would be lost in the process. If this happened, what advantage would it have over our present Australia Day ceremony?

Concluding Comment

From the philosophical perspective of course, the national holiday of any country will always have the capacity to present something of a focal point for protest by any disadvantaged group. To that extent, all other considerations aside, celebration of our national day on any date would still have the potential to attract protest, a point underlined by the current day problems which were also focussed on in the Aboriginal Bicentennial protests.

A number of possible alternative dates for Australia's 'national day' have been canvassed. Probably, none has been demonstrated to be sufficiently 'more appropriate' than 26 January to justify supplanting it as our 'national day'.

24 Including persons from nations which were enemies of Australia during some conflicts. 25 Robert A. Hall, The Black Diggers, Allen and Unwin, 1989.