Monday, January 26, 2009

Australia Day

On April 20th, 1770, Captain James Cook and the crew of his ship, HMS Endeavour, became the first Europeans to see the east coast of what we now call Australia. He named the land New South Wales, after his homeland of South Wales, and claimed it for Britain.

Back in England, the jails were overflowing with prisoners. Despite the fact that Captain Cook had made contact with the Aborigines, the British declared that New South Wales was uninhabited [no one lived there] and sent 11 ships full of prisoners there to start a colony. These ships are now known as the First Fleet. The First Fleet arrived in Sydney on January 26th, 1788 – 221 years ago today!
A ship like one of the First Fleet in modern-day Sydney Harbour
January 26th is now celebrated as Australia Day, a national public holiday that is marked by special events around the country. Many towns & cities hold special ceremonies & fireworks displays. The Prime Minister of Australia gives a special address to the nation [a speech that is broadcast on TV & radio stations], and special awards are presented to Australians who have done good things. Also on this day, there is usually a special cricket match, as well as some big outdoor music festivals.

The Australian Flag – The Union Jack [British Flag] represents Australia's connection to Britain; the 7-pointed star, the 7 states of Australia; and the other stars, the Southern Cross [ a group of stars you can usually see from the southern half of the Earth].
Not everyone thinks that Australia Day should be a celebration! Aborigines hold “Invasion Day” and “Survival Day” events, protesting the fact that their country was invaded [taken over by force] by the British and celebrating that their people & culture somehow survived.
Some anti-Australia Day graffiti on a wall in the Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney
The Australian Aboriginal Flag – The black represents the people; the red, their land & blood; and the yellow, their sun

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