Australia Day and Sydney: Contesting the Foundation of a Nation with Dr. Mark Dunn - Context Travel

Australia Day and Sydney: Contesting the Foundation of a Nation with Dr. Mark Dunn


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Australia Day, a national holiday, commemorates the arrival of the British in Sydney in January 1788. But whose holiday is it and should we even celebrate it? Join scholar Mark Dunn to explore the origins of this anniversary date and understand why it is contested today.

Australia Day, January 26, commemorates the arrival of the British into Sydney Harbour in 1788, marking the start of their convict colony and the foundation of the city of Sydney. Although an undoubtedly momentous event, the day has long been shrouded in controversy. Early celebrations were reserved exclusively for the colonial elite, the governors, and high officials. Most convicts were understandably less interested in the proceedings, and in 1808 on the twentieth anniversary of Australia Day, the Governor, William Bligh was overthrown in an armed coup.

In the early nineteenth century, Anniversary day, as it was known then, was marked by a sailing regatta on Sydney Harbor, horse races, and lavish balls. But it remained a Sydney-centric day, with each of the other Australian states recognizing their foundation day events throughout the year. In 1888, one hundred years after the arrival of the British in Sydney, the first push was made to classify January 26 as a national day for the entire country. By 1938 other states were celebrating along with New South Wales while still maintaining their anniversary days.

But 1938 also started a new conversation. In Sydney, a group of Aboriginal protesters held a Day of Mourning, calling to attention the loss of their culture, land, and traditions due to the British arrival. This protest grew steadily over the following fifty years leading up to the two hundredth anniversary year in 1988. From that date to today, a growing movement has called into question the very notion of Australia Day, asking who it is for and what it means for a modern Australia.

Led by an expert on Sydney and Australia’s colonial history, Mark Dunn, this interactive seminar will explore the changing nature of Australia’s national day. Designed to inform curiosity and future travels, participants will come away with an increased understanding of the founding moments of the city of Sydney and the challenges of commemoration when faced with an uncomfortable history.

Mark Dunn is a Sydney based historian with over 25 years of experience in heritage, archaeology, walking tours, and historical research. He has recently published his first book The Convict Valley which explores convict and Aboriginal interactions in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney.

This conversation is suitable for all ages

90 minutes, including a 30 minute Q&A.

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