26 January is Australia Day which commemorates the landing of the First Fleet and the beginning of European settlement of Australia. It was not the first time that Europeans had visited the continent but these ships bought soldiers, settlers and convicts to form a permanent colony under the leadership of Governor Arthur Phillip.
In recent times Australia Day has become a contentious holiday. Naturally the indigenous community don’t particularly want to celebrate the day their country was taken over. Many call it “Invasion Day”. I understand that.
Citizenship ceremonies are usually held on Australia Day but some councils would prefer to hold them on a different day and there is a growing feeling that the holiday should be moved but nobody can decide when it ought to be or what it should celebrate.
Honestly, though I don’t think that many Australians spend a lot of time thinking about the past. Most people see this holiday that falls towards the end of the school holidays as the last chance to enjoy BBQ’s, the beach, watching cricket or just generally having a good time before the school year begins again. I think that people just want to celebrate life that day and I guess you could do that any day really. I’m not saying we should forget our history though. The way the native people were treated was bad but it happened. Most countries settled by Europeans have similar stories. But no matter how bad it is it doesn’t alter the fact that 26th January was the day that the first white settlers arrived. Like it or not it was the beginning of Australia as we are now. We don’t have to throw a party but we should remember it.
A long time ago, when we lived in South Australia there used to be a big event in Adelaide on Australia Day called Skyshow. It was fireworks synchronised to music broadcast from a local radio station. I know, it’s no big deal now but it was a novel idea back then. In the early years before it started to get too big and crowded we’d go to a park in the city with a rug and a radio and sit amongst thousands of other people all listening to the same station. I used to get a great feeling of community from that. I have to admit that it wasn’t nearly as much fun cleaning up the trains after the show once I started working for the railways but this was before that, the eighties.
I always rather liked the Australia Day weekend because our own personal Australia Day also falls that week. We arrived in Australia by sea from England in January 1966. I found out some years later that our official arrival date was 19 January when the ship reached Fremantle and mum’s passport was stamped by the immigration officials but we always counted it as the day we arrived in Adelaide. 24th January.
I still remember the day. The ship docked in Melbourne in the morning and we had to catch a train to Adelaide. It was a slow train and it took us until late that night before we arrived. All day long we passed through the brown countryside. At lunchtime, the train stopped at a station where everyone got off and was served a meal in the refreshment room. Later in the day, we stopped at another place where we had tea and snacks. Now I think about it that train was probably chartered especially for the passengers as that was not standard practice for passenger trains even then. We first saw the lights of Adelaide from the train as we came down through the foothills. I remember thinking how pretty they were. I still love that view of the city. Finally, we arrived and there was our grandmother waiting to meet us although we still had a long drive in our uncle’s car before we finally arrived.