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Invasion Day and Captain Cook

In a desperate attempt to deflect attention on their economic incompetence, their war on the poor, the manipulation of the ABC, and the Banking Royal Commission, the current Federal government hopes that it can appeal to nationalism, but condemning Byron City Council for moving Australia Day celebrations one day earlier. The Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, criticised the council for engaging in "indulgent self-loathing", claiming that "Our modern Aus nation began on January 26, 1788. That’s the day to reflect on what we’ve accomplished, become, still to achieve. We can do this sensitively, respectfully, proudly, together."

Most commentators were less than happy with this. My own comment parodied the response; "Let's respectfully, sensitively, and proudly whitewash 250 years of dispossession, rape, and murder. We've achieved so much". Others argued that the account was a parody. Noongar author Claire Coleman reminded the Prime Minister that the day will not be forgotten as invasion day. Others pointed out that even on a technical level the Prime Minister was completely mistaken; "Technically this date is 'Foundation Day; of the Penal Colony of NSW. The Commonwealth of Australia - Australia as ‘Nation’ commenced on 1 January 1901. Before that it was a collection of 'colonies'". Sydney-sider parochialism now unites with white invader imperialism.

Matters took a step to the bizarre when Nationals leader Bridget McKenzie told Sky News, referring to the day, "The reality is that is when the course of our nation changed forever. When Captain Cook stepped ashore, "And from then on, we've built an incredibly successful society, best multicultural society in the world." Marque DC responded in parody: "Capt Cook was a great Australian! He was the guy who rode Phar Lap in a cavalry charge across the open plains of Gallipoli against the Japanese. He got a VC for that action. I saw it on the #NationalPartyHistoryChannel"

In reality, the date marks the arrival of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove under the command of Captain Arthur Phillip, which arrived with a gunboat and hundreds of soldiers. On this day, Phillip raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British Sovereignty over the eastern half of what would become Australia.

By the end of the year, in addition to dispossession of land, the British arrivals are capturing aboriginal people. By the end of the following year a war has broken out with punitive expeditions sent out by Philip and indigenous resistance carried out by Pemulwuy which lasts for several years (with the British seeking a policy of extermination against the Bediagal people collectively), whilst further dispossession and displacements take place in contemporary Parramatta, Bankstown, and the Hawkesbury, and Georges River; the people there also resisted. There is even strong evidence that the invaders used smallpox as biological warfare.

In contrast, Captain James Cook died had nine years before January 26th, 1788. Whilst treated as some sort of saint by various members of the Australian public, it must be remembered that the very moment that his crew made a landing on Botany Bay they shot a local Gweagal man in the leg. After that, they were understandably cautious, and Cook recorded in his log (April 29, 1770) "all they [indigenous Australians] seem'd to want was us to be gone".

Not that his behaviour improved on reaching Hawaii. Initially, he and his crew were welcomed. However, he was particularly impressed by some wood that the Hawaiians used to border their sacred burial ground - used for high ranking individuals and depictions of their gods. Offering two iron hatchets for the wood, he was frustrated when the chiefs said that they weren't interested in trading. So he gave orders to break down the fence and steal it.

Understandably the Hawaiians were not impressed with this equivalent of the dismantling of Westminster Abbey, the Hawaiians retaliated by taking one of the ship's longboats. Cook then decided that merely dismantling and stealing their Westminster Abbey wasn't enough - he decided to kidnap an aliʻi (noble). As the Hawaiians approached Cook and his party demanding the return of their chief, Cook responded by striking their High Chief, Kanaʻina, with his sword, as the crew raised guns and tried to continue with the kidnapping. Understandably this turn of events did not turn out well. The Hawaiians responded with numbers and Cook was killed - due his thievery, his kidnapping, and his initiation of violence.

As for Invasion Day, the Prime Minister has argued that there should be a separate holiday to celebrate indigenous culture. As if such an apartheid holiday would make any difference to the divisiveness, offensiveness, and hurt of celebrating the declaration of an invasion. Even less sophisticated are the arguments made in favour of the current Australia Day holiday. Some claim, erroneously, that it has always been part of Australian culture - which is completely incorrect - at various times it has been celebrated on July 26, July 27, and July 30. Others make the remarkable claim that somehow it is an opposition to celebrations in general. They have missed the point that the campaign to 'Change The Date', not 'End Parties'.

It becomes more confusing for supporters of the current day when asked why the insistence on this particular day, rather than one which would be more unifying? Quite clearly the current Australia Day is divisive and, to many indigenous Australians in particular, downright offensive. If insistence is made to continue with this day, the acceptance will never be achieved without a true reconciliation - which would mean recognition and ending the genocide of the indigenous people of the land, recognition of aboriginal sovereignty, and the establishment of a treaty. Australia is the only Commonwealth nation that doesn’t have a treaty with its indigenous people. The first actual trade of land for goods wasn't until Batman's Treaty of June 1835, which was declared void two months later with terra nullius imposed.

Ultimately one is left with the realisation that the hard advocates of "celebrating" Australia Day on January 26 is on the basis of either complete indifference to the grave moral wrong that was committed on that day towards the indigenous inhabitants of the land or actual outright support of that invasion. Those are the only possible grounded reasons that one can possibly have for accepting January 26 as "Australia Day" - which brings the question of which of the reasons the Prime Minister would use.

Today, there is clear evidence of systemic racism in Australia - in employment and in the legal system. Despite spiraling issues in health and housing, the Northern Territory has cut billions from the indigenous funding. Yet when the local councils like the City of Yarra, the City of Darebin, and the City of Byron Bay make even a symbolic recognition that perhaps "celebrating" invasion day might not be in the best interests of reconciliation, how does the Federal government - with all their advocates for "free speech" - react? By stripping them of their right to hold citizen ceremonies. 'Freedom' means you have the right to agree with this government.


Just a few days after this was written New Zealand removes Captain Cook statue.

26 January 1788
Phillip and the crew of the tender Supply had already landed at Sydney Cove. John White, the surgeon reported:

"The Supply had arrived the day before, and the governor, with every person that could be spared from the ship, were on shore, clearing the ground for the encampment."

Many of the officers thought that Port Jackson was a magnificent harbour

"as an Harbour, None, that has hitherto been described, equals it in Spaciousness and Safety. the Land forms a Number of pleasant Coves in most of which 6 or 7 Ships may lie secured to the Trees on Shore. The Whole, (in a Word) exhibits a Variety of Romantic Views, all thrown together into sweet Confusion by the careless hand of Nature."

"Our passage to Port Jackson took up but few hours, and those were spent far from unpleasantly. Having passed between the capes which form its entrance, we found ourselves in a port superior, in extent and excellency, to all we had seen before. We continued to run up the harbour about four miles, in a westerly direction, enjoying the luxuriant prospect of its shores, covered with trees to the water's edge, among which many of the Indians were frequently seen, till we arrived at a small snug cove on the southern side, on whose banks the plan of our operations was destined to commence."

So on the 26 January the ships of the First Fleet left Botany Bay and assembled in Sydney Cove, Phillip in the Supply having landed the day before and erected a flag pole.

"In the evening of this day the whole of the party that came round in the Supply were assembled at the point where they had first landed in the morning, and on which a flag-staff had been purposely erected and an union jack displayed, when the marines fired several vollies; between which the governor and the officers who accompanied him drank the healths of his Majesty and the Royal Family, and success to the new colony. The day, which had been uncommonly fine, concluded with the safe arrival of the Sirius and the convoy from Botany Bay."

"On the Evening of our Arrival (26th January 1788) The Governor & a Number of the Officers assembled on Shore where, they Displayed the British Flag and each Officer with a Heart, glowing with Loyalty drank his Majesty's Health and Success to the Colony."

"In the evening of the 26th the colours were displayed on shore, and the Governor, with several of his principal officers and others, assembled round the flag-staff, drank the king's health, and success to the settlement, with all that display of form which on such occasions is esteemed propitious, because it enlivens the spirits, and fills the imagination with pleasing presages."

Figure 3. "The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788" / Original [oil] sketch [1937] by Algernon Talmage R.A.

Some of the First Fleet journals and letters do not even mention this little ceremony, there were only a few officers and men involved. There appear to have been no convicts on shore for this ceremony, or if they were, they didn’t rate a mention. A number of the officers were also not present nor mentioned it in their journals. Those who were not on shore or who did not mention this incident include: Worgan, White, Tench, Collins, Blackburn, Bradley and Clarke.

This could indicate, to the participants, this was nothing more than a thanksgiving for their safe arrival. None of the reporters give the incident much importance, unlike the reading of Phillip's Commission on 7 February 1788. Some of the male able-bodied convicts were disembarked the next day, 27 January, and the remainder over the next few days. None of the female convicts were allowed off the ships until 6 February 1788, when the sick were also landed and admitted to the tent hospital.

Therefore, in reality, on 26 January 1788 the only event was the anchoring of the ships of the First Fleet in Sydney Cove, the running up of a flag and a toast to the King and success of the colony.

The official ceremony occurred on the 7 February 1788.

"The 7th of February, 1788, was the memorable day which established a regular form of Government on the coast of New South Wales. On a space previously cleared, the whole colony was assembled; the military drawn up, and under arms; the convicts stationed apart; and near the person of the Governor, those who were to hold the principal offices under him. The Royal Commission was then read by Mr. D. Collins, the Judge Advocate. By this instrument Arthur Phillip was constituted and appointed Captain General and Governor in Chief in and over the territory, called New South Wales; extending from the northern cape, or extremity of the coast, called Cape York, in the latitude of ten degrees, thirty-seven minutes south, to the southern extremity of the said territory of New South Wales, or South Cape, in the latitude of forty-three degrees, thirty-nine minutes south, and of all the country inland to the westward, as far as the one hundred and thirty-fifth degree of east longitude, reckoning from the meridian of Greenwich, including all the islands adjacent in the Pacific Ocean, within the latitudes aforesaid of 10°. 37'. south, and 43°. 39'. south, and of all towns, garrisons, castles, forts, and all other fortifications, or other military works which may be hereafter erected upon the said territory, or any of the said islands."

Even when the proclamation was read, it didn’t cover the entire continent, all of Western Australia and almost half of the Northern Territory and South Australia were not included. However, the territorial boundaries detailed did not give an eastern longitude, but did include all the adjacent islands in the Pacific, so could this mean it included New Zealand under Cook’s discoveries?

All of the records from the First Fleet mention this incident, indicating that it was much more important to them than the little ceremony held on the 26 January.

The anniversary of the 26 January is not recorded as being commemorated again for another three years, when Collins makes a very brief note in January 1791:

26th. Our colours were hoisted in the redoubt, in commemoration of the day on which formal possession was taken of this cove three years before.


In 2021, we conducted a study that showed while 60% of Australians continued to support the celebration of Australia Day on January 26, these figures were significantly lower among younger Australians. We predicted support for the day would continue to decline.

In November 2021, we posed the same proposition: we should not celebrate Australia Day on January 26. We also asked other questions about respondents’ attitudes to Australian and world history.

Our findings supported this thinking. In 2021, 60% of those surveyed stated they strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement. In 2023, 56% of those surveyed strongly disagreed or disagreed with the statement.

The one other survey undertaken in the same manner as ours was in 2019, when 70% of Australians favoured retaining January 26 as Australia Day. The shift in support from 70% in 2019 to 56% in 2023 is very pronounced.