The arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney in 1788 was certainly one of the most significant events in modern Australian history as this marked the start of European settlement on ancient Aboriginal land.
Although the first ship of the First Fleet (HMS Supply) arrived on 18 January in Botany Bay upon recommendations made by Captain James Cook nearly two decades prior, it was soon apparent that the sandy and infertile land would not be able to support a fledgling colony.
Settlement plans were soon changed upon the discovery of Port Jackson and what was described as the “finest harbour in the world”. Orders to relocate were given and 26 January is remembered as the date when the First Fleet raised the British flag on the continent and thus began the long and tumultuous process of forming the Port Jackson colony, the location of where the famed Sydney Opera House now stands.
This date is also remembered for one of the greatest migration voyages in history. British Commodore (and later) Governor Arthur Phillip had almost miraculously succeeded in guiding 11 ships with 1, 350 people of which 759 were convicts, on an epic journey across half the world over a span of 33 weeks.
Traversing 24, 241km, the First Fleet brought with it men, women, convicts and what they hoped were enough supplies to last until the colony could begin supporting itself.
The anniversary of the First Fleet’s arrival is officially celebrated as Australia Day nationwide from 1818 onwards, in recent years many among the Aboriginal community observe this day as Invasion Day to raise awareness to the plight of their people following the arrival of Europeans to the continent.
In fact, on this day in 1972 a Tent Embassy was set up outside Parliament House in Canberra to protest Aboriginal dispossession of their ancient land. This Embassy became an important political symbol of Aboriginal resistance and their feeling of being treated as outsiders in their homeland.
Meanwhile, 200 years after the arrival of the First Fleet, Aboriginal activist Burnum Burnum famously went to England on this day in 1988, unfurled the Aboriginal flag and ‘claimed’ England for the Aborigines, promising tongue-in-cheek among a long list of things, not to poison their water, lace their flour with strychnine or introduce them to toxic drugs.
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