Our First Public Holiday - Australia Day

Date of Record: 26/01/1838

It was on January 26, 1788, when the First Fleet of 11 ships from Great Britain arrived at Port Jackson, which now forms Sydney Harbour. Led by Captain Arthur Philip, the Colony of New South Wales was established, the first penal colony in Australia. By 1808, January 26 was being celebrated as 'First Landing Day' or 'Foundation Day' with drink, dancing and laughter present.

Thirty years on, in 1818, the Governor of Australia ordered a 30-gun salute, hosted a dinner ball at Government House and gave government employees a holiday. In the following years, employees of banks and other organizations were also given holidays. In the following decades, horse racing and regattas were popular activities on January 26.

In 1838, Foundation Day became Australia's first public holiday. It was also the occasion of the first public celebrations of the founding of Australia. The shores of Sydney Harbour were crowded and fireworks lit up the sky. By 1888, January 26 had become known as 'Anniversary Day' and was celebrated in all colonies except Adelaide.

By 1935, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states except New South Wales, where it was still called Anniversary Day. From 1946, January 26 was known as Australia Day in all states. However, the public holiday was moved to the Monday nearest to January 26 to create a long weekend. Since 1994, the Australia Day public holiday has been on January 26 in all states and territories.