Australia Day 2022: when is the national day, what is it - and why you shouldn’t say Happy Australia Day

For many, Australia Day is steeped in controversy, with Indigenous Australians dubbing the date as Invasion Day

Australia Day has been a public holiday across Australia since 1994, commemorating the anniversary of British colonisation.

While some will get together to celebrate, others will gather to protest the highly controversial day.

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This is everything you need to know about the day.

When is Australia Day 2022?

Australia Day is held annually on 26 January across Australia.

It wasn’t until 1935 that all Australian states and territories used the name Australia Day to mark the date, and it wasn’t until 1994 that 26 January became a public holiday across the country.

What is Australia Day?

According to the Australia Day website, the day is a time to “celebrate all the things we love about Australia: land, sense of fair go, lifestyle, democracy, the freedoms we enjoy, but particularly our people”.

The date marks the day that Captain Arthur Phillip, who was the commander of the First Fleet of 11 convict ships from the UK, and the first Governor of New South Wales, arrived at Sydney Cove and raised the Union Jack flag, signalling the beginning of the colony.

Originally, Australia Day was referred to as First Landing Day or Foundation Day.

Crowds celebrate Australia Day in Melbourne Park, 2020 (Photo: Wayne Taylor/Getty Images)

Over the years, the reasons for celebrating Australia Day have changed and evolved, with the Australia Day website stating that, nowadays, “Australia Day means different things to different people” and that “everyone is encouraged to acknowledge Australia Day in a way that’s meaningful to them”.

It adds: “We acknowledge the significant contribution that everyone makes to our nation, from First Nations people who have lived here for 65,000 years to our newest citizens who call Australia home.

“Australia Day is an opportunity to celebrate our cultural diversity and rich migrant heritage, which is very much part of our unique Australian identity and has helped shape a nation proud of its strong and successful multiculturalism.

“Regardless of our origins or our past, it’s a day for Australians from all backgrounds and communities to come together to share stories, embrace our diversity, and celebrate our unity.”

How do Australians celebrate?

On Australia Day, there is a huge programme of events planned to mark the day, including things like fireworks, outdoor concerts and performances, barbecues and sporting competitions.

On the morning of Australia Day, the WugulOra Morning Ceremony is held, with an ancient smoking ceremony which “cleanses the way for new beginnings”. The WugulOra Morning Ceremony celebrates the world’s oldest living culture through dance, music and language.

Koomurri-Bujja Bujja dancers arrive for the smoking ceremony during the WugulOra Morning Ceremony as part of Australia Day 2022 (Photo: Bianca De Marchi - Pool/Getty Images)

An address is also given on Australia Day, which was first delivered in 1997, and is described as a “celebration of thought, diversity of opinion and freedom of speech”. Traditionally it’s distinguished Autralians who are invited to give the address.

This year the Australia Day Address was given by Dr Daniel Nour, the Founder and Director of Street Side Medics.

Starting in 1960, on each Australia Day a citizen of Australia is named as the Australian of the Year by the National Australia Day Council.

The winners are announced the day prior on 25 January, with the Australian of the Year 2022 named as paralympian and disability advocate Dylan Alcott.

Throughout his career as a wheelchair tennis champion, Alcott has claimed 15 grand slam singles titles and another eight in doubles. In 2017, Alcott founded Get Skilled Access, a disability and accessibility training start-up.

Alcott is also the founder of the Dylan Alcott Foundation, which awards scholarships and grants funding to Australians with a disability.

Why is it controversial?

Australia Day is considered controversial as, for indigenous Australians, the day marks the beginning of colonisation and persecution of their people, which included massacres throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Generally, Australia Day celebrations are not welcomed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with many recognising the day not as Australia Day but as Survival Day or Invasion Day.

Common Ground, a First Nations-led not-for-profit organisation, explains that this is because, “from this day in 1788 onwards, First Nations people suffered massacres, land theft, stolen children and widespread oppression at the hands of the colonising forces”.

For many First Nations people, the date is a date of mourning, not celebration. When the First Fleet arrived, there were around 750,000 people already living on the land, with more than 500 Indigenous groups.

Protesters take part in an Invasion Day demonstration on Australia Day (Photo: STEVEN SAPHORE/AFP via Getty Images)

However, by the 1900s, it’s estimated that the population of the Indigenous people was reduced by 90%.

Modern Australia Day celebrations have aimed to be more inclusive for First Nations people, with the Australia Day Council of New South Wales (NSW) saying that it “acknowledges we live and work on Aboriginal land and recognises the strength, resilience and capacity of First Nations Australians” and that the council “also acknowledges all of the traditional owners of the land, and pays respect to First Nation Elders past, present and future”.

The NSW Government also adds that, together with the Australia Day Council of NSW, it is “committed to engaging with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, elders and peoples about Australia Day activities”.

Protests against Australia Day have been held for hundreds of years, and continue still to this day.

Why shouldn’t you say ‘Happy Australia Day’?

While it may seem like saying “Happy Australia Day” is the equivalent of saying something like “Happy Christmas”, “Happy New Year” or “Happy Halloween”, it can be considered offensive, due to the links that the day has to the slaughter and colonisation of Indigenous people.

Fallon Gregory, an activist, model, influencer and Nyul-Nyul woman, told News AU: “To say “Happy Australia Day” is to invalidate and discard the atrocities that occurred upon - and since - the arrival, colonisation and settlement of Australia.”

Wishing someone a ‘Happy Australia Day’ can be controversial due to its ties to the massacre of Indigenous Australians (Photo: STEVEN SAPHORE/AFP via Getty Images)

Cheree Toka, an Aboriginal campaigner, also said: “It’s not a happy day for First Nations people. It’s a day that resulted in mourning and sorrow.

“The day the raising of the Australian flag on Aboriginal turf destroyed our history and culture.”

Kado Muir, an advocate for Aboriginal culture, heritage and awareness, called the phrase “an ignorant gesture that belittles each of us”.

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