Content Description

Use historical terms and concepts


Discussing the contestability of particular historical terms such as 'settlement', 'invasion' and 'colonisation' in the context of Australia’s history

Essential Question

In what ways do historical terms cause contestability?


Historical terms provide insight into the perception of events and concepts

Australia has a number of days of significance which are celebrated by public holidays, special events or community activities. Some have a religious focus (e.g. Christmas, Easter) whereas some are significant for other reasons (e.g. Anzac Day, New Year’s Day, Remembrance Day, Australia Day, National Sorry Day).

One controversial day that causes mixed feelings and emotions for many Australians is ‘Australia Day’. The views about this day vary greatly. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as some other Australians, believe this is a day to be mourned not celebrated.

For many non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, this day celebrates the landing of the First Fleet and the ‘beginning’ of Australia. This is far from the truth, as January 26 actually marks the establishment of a penal colony and the point in our history where the human rights and traditional and cultural practices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples were extinguished and dismissed by the ’terra nullius’ determination.

For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Australia Day symbolises genocide and abuse. It was the beginning of over two centuries of dispossession, disease epidemics, massacres, destruction of culture, exploitation, separation of families, and other harms caused by policies of extreme social control.

Australia’s the only colonised country in the world that still doesn’t have a treaty with its First Peoples. It’s also the only nation in the world that celebrates its national day on the date which colonisation occurred; other countries celebrate their national day on their day of independence, treaty signing (e.g. Waitangi Day in New Zealand) or another significant day.

In 1818 (30 years after the First Fleet arrived) Governor Lachlan Macquarie declared January 26 a public holiday for Sydney.

In 1938, on the 150th anniversary celebrations of the First Fleet landing in Sydney Cove, William Cooper, an Aboriginal member of the Aborigines (sic) Progressive Association, and other activists met and held a 'Day of Mourning and Protest'.

The national day has been known as different names throughout Australia’s history including ‘First Landing Day’, ‘Anniversary Day’ and ‘Foundation Day’.

The terms ‘Invasion Day’ and ‘Survival Day’ are popular among many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their supporters as a protest against Australia Day, and as a way to focus on the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. The terms emerged in the years leading up to the 1988 bicentenary and follow on from the 1938 declaration by the Aborigines Progressive Association that it will be deemed a ‘Day of Mourning and Protest’.

Despite popular belief, January 26 only became a national public holiday - Australia Day - in 1994.

Mutual recognition and acknowledgement of our shared past are essential to a shared future that genuinely celebrates Australia as a whole nation.

Some Australians recognise that January 26 may not be the most appropriate day for Australia Day celebrations and are campaigning for a new date that’s inclusive of all Australians. Whilst there have been numerous efforts to address this, in recent times it’s been largely driven by a growing social media campaign with the hashtag #changethedate.

Issues of historical injustice and miseducation about Australia’s history continue to perpetuate the lack of understanding and sensitivities around Australia Day.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and a growing number of other Australians, recognise January 26 as a day of invasion. Invasion Day (or Survival Day) is a day of remembrance of the loss of rights to land, language, family, and the right to practice traditional culture.

Due to inadequacies in education systems, many Australians are oblivious to the trauma that was suffered, and continues to be suffered by, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Therefore, some Australians don’t understand the issues with the date chosen to celebrate Australia as a nation.

There are many ways to respond, including:

Support a national day of celebration that all Australians can participate in together.

Research and advocate for an Australia Day in which all Australians feel represented.

Empathise with the feelings of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and a growing number of other Australians towards Australia Day.

Engage online and through social media to promote the message that Australia Day, in its current iteration, isn’t suitable as a national day of celebration of our nation.