Rudd’s apology played to crowds
On this day in 2008, the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made a formal apology to the Indigenous Australians and the Stolen Generations for years of mistreatment and oppression. The apology was passed unanimously by both houses of the Australian Parliament and was one of the first acts of the new Parliament. The apology was for the policies of the Australian federal and state governments who had forcibly taken children of Aboriginal Australians away from their families – the ‘Stolen Generations’. Rudd pledged to bridge the gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australians.
Children of the ‘Stolen Generations’
Whilst it may seem an apology is a trite way to address a legacy of persecution, this was a huge symbolic moment in Australian history. Nothing will heal the pain suffered by Indigenous families, but an official acknowledgement of the horrors that came with European settlement is an important first step.
A ‘stolen child’ hears the apology
“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page, a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.”
On this day in 1851, bushfires ravaged the Australian state of Victoria. Due to the scale of the destruction, with fire destroying five million hectares, the day has been labelled ‘Black Thursday’. It is considered one of the worst bushfires in Australian history. Twelve people lost their lives and millions of livestock were killed.1850 had been an exceptionally dry and hot year and this continued into February, with Melbourne reaching 47.2 degrees C. Strong northerly winds whipped up the fires and caused them to spread and wreak havoc. Australia still suffers from bushfires, and they continue to grow more catastrophic. Every year more people lose their homes and some their lives as temperatures rise. Unfortunately this in an ever-present danger and fear of Australian life.
“The fire kept enlarging its orbit, rolling about like some huge monster, destroying everything it touched, its track marked by charred timber, embers and ashes, cries and lamentations.”
– eyewitness account printed in the Melbourne Herald February 1883
‘The First Fleet Entering Port Jackson on January 26, 1788’ by E. Le Bihan
On this day in 1788 the British First Fleet, led by Captain Arthur Phillip, sailed into Port Jackson, Australia. The New South Wales region of Australia had been ‘discovered’ by Captain James Cook in 1770 but the first attempt to settle the area came a few years later. The Fleet of 11 ships carried 1,500 convicts and settlers on the arduous, 252 day journey from England. They arrived at Botany Bay on January 18th 1788 but as it lacked a fresh water supply they continued to look for a site for permanent settlement. On January 26th they sailed into Port Jackson and found it to be perfect conditions for settlement. Philip named the site Sydney Cove after the British Home Secretary Lord Sydney. Port Jackson is now Sydney Harbour, home to the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
“How grand is the prospect which lies before this youthful nation!”
– The now Governor Phillip’s February 7th address
‘The Founding of Australia’ painting by Algernon Talmadge 1937
Initial relations with indigenous people were amicable, however conflict soon began and there was increasing encroachment on indigenous lands by European settlers. Whilst this day is commonly celebrated as Australia Day, it has also become symbolic of the adverse affects of British colonisation on the native population. It is thus also remembered as ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’.
On this day in 1901, the six British colonies in Australia (New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania) became one nation. Upon federation, Edmund Barton was appointed the first Australian Prime Minister. It took years for the goal of federation to be realised, as there was initially opposition to the move among the populace. In 1899, the issue was put to a referendum and the majority voted for federation. Queen Victoria gave her Royal Assent to the new Australian Constitution in July 1900. On January 1st, federation was proclaimed in Centennial Park, Sydney. Australia remains part of the Commonwealth and thus the Queen still has a representative in Australia in the form of the Governor-General.
Souvenir booklet commemorating Federation
Federation was an important milestone in Australian history. One has to wonder whether the spirit which led to the approval of the federation referendum could be revived in the coming years and lead to Australia leaving the Commonwealth. Whilst a previous referendum on becoming a republic failed to secure the majority vote, it remains a possibility that Australia could become a republic or even leave the Commonwealth.
Harold Holt (1908 – 1967)
On this day in 1967, the Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt was officially presumed dead. Between 1949 and 1956 Holt was Minister for Immigration and Treasurer between 1958 and 1966. On December 17th 1967, Holt went swimming at Cheviot Beach in Victoria and was never heard from again. It is assumed that he drowned, and two days later he was officially presumed dead. Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen was then sworn in as Prime Minister. As his body was never found, there are many conspiracy theories about Holt’s disappearance, such as that he was kidnapped, abducted by aliens or committed suicide.