Australia Day 2017

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^Top image: Australia Day, a national holiday in Australia, is celebrated each year on January 26. Credit: © Shutterstock

Today, January 26, Australia celebrates Australia Day, an annual national holiday honoring the country’s past, present, and future. The date commemorates the day in 1788 that Arthur Phillip raised a British flag at Sydney Cove. Phillip was captain of the First Fleet, a group of 11 ships that carried convicts to the penal (prison) colony of New South Wales. Phillip also served as the colony’s first governor. The arrival of the First Fleet resulted in the first permanent European settlement in Australia.

January 26 was first proclaimed an annual public holiday in New South Wales in 1838. Other colonies (and, later, states) began to observe the holiday in the following years. The state of Victoria introduced the name Australia Day in 1931.

Australia Day is the country’s largest annual community celebration. It is marked by concerts, parades, flag raisings, and fireworks displays. Each year on the eve of the holiday, the National Australia Day Council announces the Australian of the Year Awards. These awards honor Australians who have made inspiring contributions to their communities. This year, the top honor of Australian of the Year went to stem cell researcher Alan Mackay-Sim, whose work has led to new treatments for spinal injuries.

Australian of the Year 2017, Emeritus Professor Alan Mackay-Sim, Biomedical scientist treating spinal cord injuries. Credit: © Sean Davey, Australian of The Year Awards

^Professor and biomedical scientist Alan Mackay-Sim accepts his Australian of the Year Award on Jan. 25, 2017. Credit: © Sean Davey, Australian of The Year Awards

Australia Day is also a day of controversy. Many of Australia’s indigenous people view the arrival of the British settlers as a devastating turning point for their ancestors and their culture. Many of Australia’s native people refer to Australia Day as Invasion Day or Survival Day. Organizers of some Australia Day festivities have worked to include Australia’s indigenous peoples in the celebration. Today, Australia Day is meant to encourage all Australians to celebrate their country.

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