Australia Day, 26 January … or is it May or July?

We all know that Australia Day is celebrated on 26 January? Right?

Sure! But did you know that Australia Day wasn’t always celebrated on this day?

Really? Yes, really …

But before going into that, for the sake of the non-Aussies who are reading this, let me just mention that Australia Day is Australia’s official national day which these days is commemorated with a public holiday. Held annually on January 26, this marks the anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales in 1788, and the raising of the British flag at that site by Governor Arthur Phillip.

But yes, over time the date for our Australian national day has changed. And it has also has also been variously named “Empire Day”, “Anniversary Day”, “Foundation Day”, and “ANA Day” (Australian Natives Association) as well.

24 May
Back in the early 1900s Australia Day was actually celebrated on 24 May, which was also known as Empire Day, and was Queen Victoria’s birthday. Celebrating Australia Day on this day was a contentious issue back then, as many felt that it was wrong to make Australia’s national day an English Queen’s birthday, and one who was already dead, having passed away in 1901.

The old newspapers on Trove has many Letters to the Editor written about this issue. Here’s a portion from one written in 1909 …

“We celebrate Empire Day, salute flags and other things on 24th May, Queen Victoria’s birthday, but Queen Victoria is dead. Australia is alive, or should be, and will probably stay alive for a few decades, unless an earthquake or the Japs, or some other calamity strikes us-and strikes us very hard.”

You can read full article here.

28 and 30 July
With the Great War starting in August 1914, it was decided in 1915 to make 30 July Australia Day, and to make it a fundraising event. This went well, and with the war still going in 1916, Australia Day was held on 28 July. You can read more about this on the Australian War Memorial website.

AUSTRALIA DAY. (1915, July 29). The Catholic Press (Sydney, NSW : 1895 - 1942), p. 24.

The Catholic Press (NSW), 29 July 1915, p. 24.

26 January
By 1919, Australia Day was held on 26 January at least in some parts of the country. This date was one that commemorated the landing of the First Fleet and settlement of New South Wales, and was originally known as “First Landing Day” or “Foundation Day”. There is evidence of these celebrations taking place that date back to the early 1800s. However it wasn’t until 30 years after the landing, that the first official celebrations were held in 1818. But as each Australian state was it’s own colony, and politics being politics, it took until 1935 to settle on a uniform date for all states to agree on, and named in Australia Day.

AUSTRALIA DAY. (1930, August 29). Queensland Times (Ipswich) (Qld. : 1909 - 1954), p. 6 Edition: DAILY.. Retrieved January 20, 2016, from

Queensland Times (Ipswich), 29 August 1930, p.6

So that’s just a little history behind Australia Day. Of course both Wikipedia, and the Australia Day website (and numerous others) have far more detail. But I thought it was interesting that Australia Day hasn’t “always” been held on January 26.

And here’s another tidbit … did you know there were rules as to how you should celebrate Australia Day? And no, it wasn’t inviting all your friends around for a barbecue and having a few beers. Check this article from 1915 out …

Adelong and Tumut Express and Tumbarumba Post, 16 July 1915, p. 2.

Adelong and Tumut Express and Tumbarumba Post, 16 July 1915, p. 2.

Happy Australia Day everyone 🙂


2 Responses to “Australia Day, 26 January … or is it May or July?”

  1. Jenny says:

    Hi Alona, found this today and wanted to read the reason for the change on the AWM site. They’ve updated their website so the link is no longer there. Are you able to update it? Will go looking anyway. Thank you for all you do.

    • Alona says:

      Hi Jenny, thanks for letting me know about the dead link. The AWM updated their website, and obviously it broke. Anyway I’ve located the article and have added in the new link. So all good now.

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