January 26th holds vastly different meanings for many across the population. Dating back to the early 1800s, its original public holiday was officially created by then Governor of New South Wales Lachlan Macquarie, for the 30th anniversary of Europeans arriving in Sydney Cove and ‘formerly founding’ that colony. Other states recognised different landing dates by other explorers and celebrated these in their own ways. It wasn’t until 100 years after European arrival that along with centenary celebrations of this event the states started to become more unified. It took another few decades before a national ‘Australia Day’ was agreed upon and the date of the 26th declared as the national holiday.

A constantly evolving narrative

The date of 26th January has now become much more complex than simply patriotism for patriotism’s sake. It’s less about fun hats, face paints, flags, and fanfare and more about recognition and reflection. For all of us, Jan 26th is about revisiting the events of our history and the legacies left by those who have sacrificed so much. This is especially the case for Australia’s defence community, which according to the last census in 2021 includes almost half a million people (served or currently serving). An ‘Australian Day’ critically evokes not only a deep sense of patriotism, but also reminds us of the legacies of those who offered great dedication and sacrifice for their country on many levels.  

The evolution of Australia's national identity through conflict

To understand the importance of Australia Day for veterans, it’s important to recognise the evolution of Australia's national identity. During both World Wars, Australians were predominantly considered British - they fought under the flag of the British Empire, loyal to their homeland. The ANZACs (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) showcased incredible bravery and sacrifice, becoming an integral part of Australia's military history.

However, it was not until the Australian Nationality and Citizenship Act 1948 that Australia officially became a nation in its own right. This legislation marked a significant milestone, granting Australian citizenship and recognising Australians as a distinct nationality. Consequently, the Korean War became the first conflict where Australian veterans fought as true Australians, with a unique sense of national pride and identity.

Australia Day's connection to veterans

Australia Day represents a day of reflection, gratitude, and camaraderie for veterans who have proudly served their country. It serves as a reminder of the sacrifices made by past generations and a symbol of the unwavering spirit and resilience of the Australian nation.

On this day, veterans gather together to honour the fallen, share their stories, and express their patriotism. They participate in parades, attend commemorative services, and engage in activities that showcase Australia's rich heritage. It is a time for all veterans to feel a sense of belonging, as they reflect on their contribution to shaping Australia's history and ensuring its freedom.