Australia Day 2015 Posted 26 January 2015 by Departed Member Why the 26th January? Australia Day commemorates the British settlement of New South Wales on 26th January 1788. The fleet of eleven ships, six being convict transports, had arrived at Botany Bay about a week earlier, but on that day moved a few kilometres north to Port Jackson and to the present site of Sydney. The reasons for the settlement In 1770, Cook had explored and reported on the east coast of Australia as suitable for settlement, as well as the possibility of using the nearby Norfolk Island as a source of flax and pine for producing canvas and spars (these potential industries failed). Following the American War of Independence, Britain needed a suitable place to depopulate its overcrowded prisons and prison hulks. In addition there was some anxiety over the activities of the French and their intentions in the South Pacific. Expanding European settlement Over the next 50 years, the present day Australian states were founded (Van Diemen’s Land/Tasmania in 1803/4, Queensland in 1824, Swan River Colony/Western Australia in 1828, Victoria in 1803 failed but permanent settlement began in 1834, South Australia in 1836) leading to eventual independence of the states and territories and Federation on the 1st January 1901. New Zealand declined to join the federation. Transportation of convicts mostly ceased by the mid 1850s, but continued to Western Australia until 1868. Australia’s Aboriginal people Something that has become more common in recent years is understandable Aboriginal activism and objection to celebrations of Australia Day. It is frequently called ‘Invasion Day’ and used to highlight the dispossession and mistreatment that they have suffered, having now become a minority in their own land. It is hard to see how this may be resolved. Protests also occur on the various foundation days celebrated by the individual States and Territories. What Australians do on Australia Day The day occurs in summer and many households, communities and governments hold celebrations that range from well-lubricated back yard barbeques to presentation of Australia Day awards and fireworks displays. What this can mean for family historians and Guild members If you are looking for people in Australia, you need to be aware of the convict records for early settlers. These records can be a treasure trove with details of court records, next of kin, and often physical descriptions. They are probably the best documented of our people. In all but a few exceptions, census records (now held every five years) have been destroyed, although we now have the choice of having our personal family records preserved for future generations. Each state has civil registration, historical street/post office directories, electoral rolls and telephone books. There was movement between states resulting from gold rushes, opening up of new agricultural land and other events, and there are some which may be unexpected, such as the relationship between Broken Hill (in NSW) and South Australia. Australia has a population that mostly originates from elsewhere in the world and we are just about as far as we can get from our historical origins if we are of European descent, though in recent times there are increasing numbers from Asia and Africa. Many of those descended from early arrivals have lost the details of their family origins, similar to those settling in the Americas, Africa and New Zealand, and we are usually in need of help from the country of origin in tracing family. Where to find more information Wikipedia is generally a good source of historical information on the foundation of European settlement in Australia and its states. For specific information on the events leading to 26th January 1788 there has been much written and some myth. Three more recent books are by Alan Frost: ‘Botany Bay Mirages – illusions of Australia’s convict beginnings’ (1994), ‘Botany Bay – the real story’ (2011), and ‘The First Fleet – the real story’ (2012). Robert Hughes’ ‘The Fatal Shore’ (1986) is older and better known, but does not have the advantage of consulting some original documents used by later authors.