Monday, 22 January 2018

Remember This? Australia Day 1988

On Friday, our nation will mark Australia Day. While it marks the 230th anniversary of the First Fleet landing in Sydney Harbour and the commencement of the colonisation of the Australian continent. It is also the day that Sydney and NSW were founded.

Above: Selected front pages from newspapers dated January 26 and 27, 1988. 

The National Australia Day Council (NADC) wants Australian's to use the day what it means to be Australian, celebrate our history and our nation.

For the past few decades, celebrations on Australia Day have grown bigger each year as (most) Australians have valued the importance of the day; even as some call for the day to be moved to respect indigenous peoples who associate January 26, 1788, as the beginning of an invasion of the continent and centuries of suffering.

But what acted as a catalyst for the growth of Australia Day?

I believe it was Australia Day 1988.

As Barrie Humphries points out in Barry Humphries Flashbacks, Australia Day before 1988 involved up "colonial dress ups and low key speeches". There would be flag raising and citizenship ceremonies as part of the day, though more low key than today e.g. Citizenship ceremonies held in the local Town Hall as opposed to the public venue hosting Australia Day celebrations. Australia Day was not a true national holiday, with many parts of the nation opting to mark the day on the Monday closest to January 26.

In 1988, celebrations took the biggest leap forward as the nation marked 200 years of modern settlement. Organisers, inspired by the celebrations in New York Harbour for the Bicentenary of American Independence on July 4, 1976 (and similar events a decade later for the 100th Anniversary of the Statue of Liberty), wanted celebrations on Sydney Harbour to be modeled on that of New York.

Highlights from the day included:

  • A Ceremony to commemorate the founding of the colony of NSW at Customs House. This included the unveiling of a plaque along the Loftus Street side. The early morning event launched the days celebrations. 
  • John Farnham named as the Australian of the Year at Kirribilli House. 
  • The ships participating in the reenactment of the First Fleet entering the harbour and pulling anchor at Farm Cove.
  • The Celebration of a Nation Ceremony held in the Opera House Forecourt attended by dignitaries and 4000 people. This included: Prince Charles, Princess Diana, Governor-General Sir Ninian Stephen, Prime Minister Bob Hawke, and NSW Premier Barrie Unsworth.
  • Flyovers of military aircraft from the Army, Navy and Air force.
  • Parade of Tall Ships involving 200 ships from around the world.  
  • A twenty-minute fireworks display to conclude the day's celebrations including an 88 gun salute from the HMAS Canberra.
It was reported that as many 2.5 million people attended events on Sydney Harbour that day including those on thousands on spectator boats. The amount of traffic on that harbour that day is unlikely to ever be emulated. British TV Presenter Michael Parkinson pointed out in 1999 that you could walk across the harbour that day as there were so many boats.

Given the amount of material available, I have created a gallery for you to view newspaper clippings related to the day.

I have located the material on Youtube that provides you with the day's highlights and more!!!

TVQ Eyewitness News - Brisbane (26/1/1988)

This is the only footage of news reports that I have located.

Australia's Day (ABC)

Uploaded by Michael Wayne to Youtube, this was a VHS produced by the ABC with the days highlights.

Celebration of Australia Day

The Seven Network were involved in the production of this video documenting the reenactment of the First Fleet along with highlights from Australia Day, 1988.

Australia Daze

A documentary focusing on how different Australians marked Australia Day, 1988. 

Australia Day Fireworks (Full show)

For the first time, fireworks were released from the arches of the bridge, setting a precedent for any future fireworks show to be held on Sydney Harbour.

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