Australia Day originally marked the declaration of British sovereignty over the area now known as New South Wales on 26th January 1788 and has been celebrated more or less continuously since then. At the start, it was known as ‘Foundation Day’ and as each of the States had a different incorporation date, there was no consistent date for the whole of the country – for example, South Australia had ‘Proclamation Day’ on 28th December. It was not until 1935 that it was renamed ‘Australia Day’ and was celebrated on the same day throughout the country.
It is now the largest public holiday in Australia, with many community events and public fireworks taking place throughout the country. The biggest public events are the Sydney Harbour Regatta and the Melbourne Voyages and People’s March. The controversies surrounding the original European settlement of Australia and its impact on the indigenous inhabitants have been reflected in annual protests and an on-going campaign to rename 26th January as ‘Invasion’ or ‘Survival’ Day. However, moves over the last twenty years to make it a celebration of multiculturalism rather than European settlement have reduced this tension and it has wide acceptance as a National Day for all Australians, with a large number of citizenship ceremonies taking place on this day.
If you’re doing business with or in Australia, it’s important to remember that because it marks the end of the school holidays (most schools re-open the following week), as with Labor Day in the US, most colleagues who have families will use the opportunity to take a few days extra holiday. So be careful about planning meetings or setting deadlines during this period.
Other significant Australian holidays include Anzac Day on 25th April, which commemorates Australian and New Zealand war dead. The one which always takes people by surprise is Melbourne Cup Day which is a horse race run on the first Tuesday in November. Whilst it is only officially a holiday in the state of Victoria, in reality there are Melbourne Cup parties throughout Australia and the whole country stops when the race is being run, with office sweepstakes etc; so having meetings on Melbourne Cup day is a very bad idea!
Editors note: This year (2014) Australia Day itself falls on a Sunday, and will be observed with a public holiday on Monday 27th January.
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