blog home

Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! All day long

Ah, Australia Day – 24-hour celebration of all things true-blue, roo, brew, and barbeque. Held annually on January 26 (or the next available Monday), Australia’s national day-off is a time for its citizens to reflect on the diverse culture and wondrous landscapes that make Down Under one of the world’s most popular travel destinations (and [&hellip

by Steve English Posted on 24 January 2014

Ah, Australia Day – 24-hour celebration of all things true-blue, roo, brew, and barbeque. Held annually on January 26 (or the next available Monday), Australia’s national day-off is a time for its citizens to reflect on the diverse culture and wondrous landscapes that make Down Under one of the world’s most popular travel destinations (and maybe hit the beach, too).

A relatively young celebration (it’s only been an official national holiday since 1994, although most states and territories marked the occasion individually), Australia Day commemorates the date way back in 1788 when Britain’s First Fleet landed at Port Jackson. The country had been “discovered” and claimed for Britain 18 years before by Capt. James Cook, becoming an official territory in 1829 with the founding of the colony of Western Australia.

But as is true with all colonial territories, Australia’s history began long before the Europeans turned up. The country’s human history dates back at least 40,000 years, when prehistoric settlers migrated there from Africa through Southeast Asia. Understandably, the very notion of Australia Day is contentious to many Aborigines – in some circles, the holiday is referred to as “Invasion Day.”

What met those first settlers – Africans and Europeans alike – was a vast, untamed land of arid deserts scorched by the sun and filled near to bursting with a dazzling array of wildlife (much of it of the stinging, biting, venomous, and man-eating kind). But as alien as the environment must have seemed to Australia’s new arrivals, the possibilities it presented – all 7,741,000 sq km of them – were practically boundless.

Of course, few of those first European arrivals had license to take advantage of their new home’s abundance. Yes, Australia did begin life as a penal colony, but it quickly became apparent to the British that their new settlement had much to offer. Within Australia’s first century under British rule, gold was discovered in New South Wales’ Central Tablelands. Almost overnight, prospectors from Europe and America descended on the country in search of fame and fortune. The hardy frontier lifestyle, independent spirit, and melting-pot atmosphere so fundamental to Australia’s national character today largely stems from these times, when “the faraway jail with great surfing” began to grow into one of the most prosperous and welcoming countries in the world.

So there’s the history, but what about the now? If you’re in Australia for Australia Day, you’ve got loads of options throughout the weekend. The most iconic celebration takes place down in Sydney Harbour, where the Harbour Bridge is lit up by a massive fireworks display. The Big Day Out festival hosts big-name performers from Australia and the world (Pearl Jam and Arcade Fire rank among this year’s acts), and just about every city and town across the country boasts some sort of outdoor festival or beach party. But for the most authentic Australia Day experience, our resident Aussies recommend just filling up your trusty Esky cooler, finding a nice patch of beach somewhere, grilling up some prawns, and tuning in to Triple J’s Hottest 100 countdown – trust us; it’s all everyone will be talking about.