Anniversary Day [27 January 1908]

[Editor: An article about “Anniversary Day” (Australia Day). Published in The Barrier Miner, 27 January 1908.]

Anniversary Day.

How many Australians recognise the fact that Anniversary Day is more than a mere holiday — that it is significant of a nation’s birth? How many give the least thought to the significance of the day at all? Yet it is of greater moment as an Australian holiday than many others customarily celebrated. It recalls to the vivid recollection of students of Australian history the eventful period when this island continent started its national career. On January 26, 1788, when Captain Phillip hoisted the British flag on the shores of Sydney’s picturesque harbor, and initiated that settlement now crystallised in the term “A White Australia,” most potent changes were transpiring in Europe and America. In the former that tremendous social and political upheaval known as the French Revolution was on the point of eruption, and in the latter the successfully rebellious colonists were in the throes of constitution-making. Just 12 years prior to the hoisting of the British flag by Port Jackson’s shores, the Americans had consummated a courageous campaign against the Motherland, and had begun their national career as independent republicans. This fact had an effect, indirect it may be, of turning British thoughts in the direction of the “Great South Land,” or “New Holland,” as it was most familiarly known. British convicts had been dispatched, prior to American independence, to that country. After 1776 they were no longer permitted to land in American territory. Hence Australia was substituted.

It is well to remember that in the founder of a White Australia, Captain Phillip, had loftier ideas of his infant settlement than, perhaps, his superiors, the British Government of that period. To him the notion that Australia was to remain only a distant gaol was repugnant. He, in somewhat prophetic fashion, believed that Australia’s destiny was as great and as grand as any nation yet to be evolved. Certain it is that to this noble-minded founder of the Commonwealth a tribute is owing by every loyal Australian. No commemoration of Anniversary Day is complete without a fitting recognition of Captain Phillip. If George Washington be the Father of American nationhood, Captain Phillip is equally deserving of the honor of being acclaimed the Father of Australian nationhood.

It is 120 years since Captain Phillip planted the seeds of a White Australia on the shores of Sydney Harbor. But, brief as this span of years may appear to be in a nation’s history, what great and epoch-marking changes have transpired during this time. From a mere handful of rebellious colonists the American people have become one of the most powerful nations on the planet.

The British people have given the map a liberal splash of red, and added territory to territory to more than compensate for the loss of the American colonies. Other nations have gone ahead or receded into comparative oblivion. Perhaps the most startling fact of all has been the awakening of the East and the rapid rise of the Mikado’s Empire. On January 26, 1788, when a White Australia was founded, the imminent Asiatic peril was either ignored or unknown. Then Great Britain was too much concerned in European turmoil. The star of Napoleon was about to arise. France was on the threshold of a reign of bloodshed. The revolution was about to begin. Thrones were tottering. The Republican spirit had control of the long suppressed peoples of the Continent. That spirit was spreading to England. It was not in the minds of the rulers of 1788 that the foundation of a White Australia meant a speedier and a safer revolution than all orgies of a Parisian slaughter or the upsetting of European dynasties.

Yet there was the fact. Whilst Europe was in the throes of constitutional upheavals, Captain Phillip was quietly and effectively raising the standard of Democracy thousands of miles distant in Sunny Australia. To-day we celebrate that event.

The Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) Monday 27 January 1908, page 2

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