Australia’s National Day

The annual discussion concerning the appropriate day to celebrate Australia continues. With the arrival of the First Fleet on 26 January 1788, Australia was established as an outpost of the British Empire. While this day is now celebrated as our national day, there are many members of the indigenous community and beyond who consider that the day also marked the beginning of over 200 years of oppression. Official ceremonies on Australia Day now make a point of inclusiveness for all citizens but the incongruity remains.
There is some thought that our National Day should be changed to 1 January recognising the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.


In Column 8 of Sydney Morning Herald, Monday 23 January, SCG member Julia Mellville-Jones advised that the 2017 SCG members Sports Diary lists Australia Day as Wednesday 25 January.
Probably understandable though. As indicated in Dave Brown’s excellent analysis Making sense of a second SCG Test, the SCG Trust appear to have more self-serving, less nation-focussed matters at hand at the moment.
The next day, the column carried a comment from Jill Chambers of Port Macquarie who wrote that, “some First Nation people advocate changing Australia Day to 25 January as (commemorating) the last day they had sovereignty of their land.


That got me thinking. What great national sporting event or occurrence could be used as the day to commemorate and celebrate the Australian nation?
Some possibilities. You may note a particular bias, if not reverse swing, in the choices.


1 February
Under instructions from captain Greg Chappell, younger brother Trevor Chappell bowled an underarm delivery to NZ batsman, Brian McKechnie in the One Day International match at the MCG.
Possible day? I think not.


24 February
Recognising Australian cricketer Betty Wilson’s heroic Test performance against England. On the first day of play, Saturday 22 February, Betty Wilson captured 7/7 including a hat trick and was 27 not out at the close of play. On Monday 24 February, Wilson completed her century (100 no) and took 4/9 in the second innings. The induction of Betty Wilson into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame introduced many of us to this remarkable pioneer of women’s cricket. See Dave Wilson’s Speeches given on the occasion of Betty Wilson being inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame.


19 March
Australia defeated England by 45 runs at the MCG in the first ever Test match.
Charles Bannerman, born in Kent, received the first ball bowled in a Test. He was dropped early in his innings before completing the first Test century (165 retired hurt). The Argus commented, “For the time being we all – New South Wales and Victorians – must forget our geographical distinctions and only remember that we are of one nation, Australia.” Well, there you go. Building the nation.


7 April
There are many athletes who have achieved Olympic greatness by winning gold and breaking world records. Champions of their generation include Ian Thorpe, Dawn Fraser, Shirley Strickland, Shane Gould, Cathy Freeman and many others. However, the first Australian Olympic champion was Edwin Flack. At the 1896 Athens Olympics, Flack won gold in the 1500m race in a time of 4:33.2. Two days later Flack also won gold in the 800m.


27 June
Edward “Ned” Trickett became the first Australian World Champion in any sport when he easily defeated Englishman Joseph Sadler in the World Professional Sculling Championship race over a distance of three miles on the Thames. Tens of thousands of spectators witnessed the event and the betting on the race was huge. Trickett won £400 in stake money, a significant amount for this Australian-born son of a convict father and an Irish mother. Some 25,000 people greeted Trickett on his return to Sydney.
24 July
In a season marked by appalling weather, Victor Trumper stood head and shoulders above all others in scoring the first century before lunch in a Test match. He scored 104 in the Test at Old Trafford, arguably his best Test innings. This date is chosen ahead of 16 June 1899 when Trumper scored 135 not out at Lords in only his second Test. After the Lords innings, Trumper was approached by the great WG Grace who handed Trumper his bat bearing the inscription: “From the past champion to the future champion.”


27 August
Birthdate of Sir Donald Bradman, Australia’s greatest cricketer – batsman, captain, administrator. Career Test average 99.94. Many other batsmen of far more modest achievements have failed to heed advice such as that offered by Bradman, via Sam Loxton, to a young Neil Harvey on the Ashes Tour of 1948 – “You tell your little mate this. I can’t tell him how to bat, but if he keeps the ball on the ground he can’t get out.”


29 August
In the only Test of the 1882 English season, the home side was defeated by Australia by 7 runs at The Oval. Fred “The Demon” Spofforth, the first Australian mad quick, took 7/46 and 7/44. A mock obituary in remembrance of English cricket appeared in the press and the Ashes were born.
27 September
At Newport, Rhode Island USA, the yacht Australia II, fitted with a controversial winged keel, defeated the American yacht Liberty and in doing so prised the America’s Cup, the oldest international sporting trophy, from the country that had held it for 126 years. The win prompted Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke to jocularly announce, “Any boss who sacks a worker for not turning up today is a bum”. While this pronouncement would not be required (with the exception of the hospitality and entertainment industry) if 27 September were to be chosen as our national day, it would also mean that the official Australian flag would need to be changed to that of the boxing kangaroo.
4 November
On this day, the champion thoroughbred Pharlap won the 1930 Melbourne Cup, Australia’s premier horse race. While his birthplace, Timaru, New Zealand, would preclude this day from being chosen as our national day, Phar Lap’s exploits (37 wins from 51 starts) were important in captivating the Australian nation during the depression years. And the Australian connection remains, for as stated in the marvellous “unofficial” obituary penned by B G Andrews, “after dying in mysterious circumstances in Atherton, California, on 5 April, 1932, (Phar Lap) was buried in California, Melbourne, Canberra and Wellington.


The first real Australia Day will not occur before there is considerable discussion and conciliation. In my opinion, it will only occur when Australia is free from the shackles of the British monarchy with our own Australian head of state and when our indigenous peoples are recognised in the constitution.


The 6th of November seems like a suitably symbolic day.

6 November
The first over of the Shield match between NSW and Qld at the Gabba, Brisbane in 1931 was a double wicket maiden bowled by the fiery indigenous fast bowler Eddie Gilbert. After the NSW opener Wendell Bill was dismissed with the first ball of the match, Don Bradman then survived a four-ball onslaught before edging an attempted hook shot into the wicket keepers gloves. Bradman: 0. Later, Bradman is reported to have said that the bowling of Gilbert was, “faster than anything seen from Harold Larwood or anyone else”.


Any other suggestions?

About Peter Crossing

Peter Crossing loves the pure 'n natch'l blues. He is a member of the silver fox faction of the Adelaide Uni Greys. He is something of a cricket tragic although admitting to little interest in the IPL or Big Bash forms of the game.


  1. Some great yarns there PC. Betty, Flack, Trickett and Bannerman particularly appeal.
    Though our national day should obviously be the first Friday in September – National Almanac Grand Final Lunch Day. Celebrating our indigenous sport – not those imported from elsewhere – and the great Australian pastime of “lunching for Australia”. Harms for GG. You know it makes sense.

  2. Was part of a Twitter conversation yesterday on this topic, Peter (and thanks for the wrap) with an AFL theme (particularly the things that contributed to the VFL becoming a national league). Suggested, were:
    – 28 March (1982) – the date the Swans first played in Sydney
    – 30 July (1990) – the date Port Adelaide announced it had signed a Heads of Agreement with the AFL, forcing the SANFL’s hand to enter a team in the competition as the last mainland state not to have a team
    – 8 October (1977) – date of the first Australian Rules state of origin match

    Broader point also well and truly taken – 26 January is unnecessarily hurtful to many as our national day but I think there is such a schism within our community on the matter I’m not sure how we move forward.

  3. jan courtin says

    Why do we need to celebrate on ANY particular day at all? And what exactly are we celebrating? It’s certainly not the indigenous culture of the first people who’ve been here for umpteen thousands of years.

    Those of us white, well-off to middling class Aussies lucky enough to live here, should be celebrating our lives on a daily basis instead of wasting money and time on an excuse for a booze-up and a barbie on a day that we should in fact be quite ashamed of!

  4. I’m with you Jan. I’m not a big fan of Australia Day because it celebrates the day 11 ships arrived full of British convicts to set up camp on land that was already being occupied by an indigenous culture.

    It’s a great day for the British, but not so much for the descendants of the original occupants.

    I think that if we desperately need a day to celebrate “Australia” – why not the day Matthew Flinders officially named the country, “Australia”.

    Indigenous Australians seem to be happy and proud to be called Australians – it celebrates all cultures not just that of British origin.

    I don’t know when the name Australia first became official but surely there would be some historians who can pinpoint the date.

  5. I’m with Jan, but If we have to have a day, perhaps the date Rudd apologized? But as Dave touched upon, there’s such a schism I can’t see how it’s possible to move in any direction. I think the Nationalistic types who consider 26/1 sacrosanct will just have to go one suffering the protests, and we protesters the same.

  6. Whoops, typos on last one

    I’m with Jan, but If we have to have a day, perhaps the date Rudd apologized? But as Dave touched upon, there’s such a schism, I can’t see how it’s possible to move in any direction. I think the Nationalistic types who consider 26/1 sacrosanct will just have to go on suffering the protests, and we protesters the same.

  7. I’m with Jan, i don’t know why we need a day of this type.

    It makes me think of the wonderful Bertolt Brecht quote. “Unhappy the land that is in need of heroes.”


  8. Mick Jeffrey says

    As an indigenous person I don’t mourn what happened what happened all those years ago and instead celebrate the fact that our people have not only survived but also thrived in today’s culture. There’s no need to change the date, nothing will change (and on a personal note I’ll probably be forced to work so no time to celebrate anything). There will still be protests, there will still be violence, there will still be those who will mourn, there will still be those who feel marginalised, there will still be ignorance of the real issues that confront our people, one of which IMO is NOT a date for a national holiday. I didn’t march or take part in any protests, in fact yesterday I spent half of it blocking advocates of the date change throughout the many forms of social media. Indeed I’ll be mourning the death of the Australia I love if another date is chosen because it will show that the only way to live life is to whinge because if you do then you will recieve. It seems all we are good at these days is complaining about everything, what a legacy for the world to see.

    Sorry for the political outburst but right now all this talk about date changes makes me ashamed to be an Australian, not just an indigenous Australian.

  9. I’m with you Mick. Very well said.

  10. Bernard Whimpress says

    Can I add Boxing Day, a day when we wear melons on our heads, drape ourselves in the present national flag, squawk ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ more vociferously than usual, and drink even more piss than we consumed the day before. Oh for the 50s and 60s when it seemed like every year for twenty we commenced our three day slaughter of allcomers (but mainly the Yanks) in our retention of the Davis Cup. Go Lew, go Ken, go Rocket, go Roy, go Neil, go Fred, go Newk, go Rochy. Course if you don’t wanna hangout in the Harbour or the G you used to be able to go to the Hanging Rock Races and feel like you were part of a Pro Hart painting. I hope they’re still running.

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