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Australia Day Lesson for Kids: History & Facts

Instructor: Jennifer Lowery

Jennifer has taught elementary levels K-3 and has master's degrees in elementary education and curriculum/instruction and educational leadership.

A major holiday in the land down under is Australia Day. In this lesson, learn about the history of Australia Day, and how people celebrate the holiday with traditions and symbols.

Colony of Prisoners

Today we have jails for people who commit crimes, but hundreds of years ago Britain had a dilemma. What to do with criminals in order to keep their country safe? The solution happened on January 26, 1788. Eleven ships carrying prisoners traveled to the British colony of New South Wales, which is what we now call Australia. The British wanted to establish it as a penal colony, which is a colony where they could send convicted criminals called convicts.

Australia is an island country and continent, and it was originally a home to British convicts.
continent

Official Holiday

The captain in charge of this penal colony was Arthur Phillips. You can imagine that he had a pretty tough job! Not only did he have eleven ships of prisoners, but they arrived in a strange land that made it tough for growing crops. The members of the colony nearly starved during the first few years.

Eventually conditions improved, and now that times weren't so tough the members of the colony began to take pride in the date of January 26. They held unofficial celebrations on that date, and in 1818 Australia Day became an official holiday.

Day of Sadness

Not everything associated with Australia Day is happy, though. The original inhabitants of the island of Australia are the aborigines. These are native people who lived off the land, but were forced out to make room for the British penal colony. Because of this history, many people who are descendants of the original Australians feel some sadness on this holiday.

Aborigines were native Australians who survived on the land before the British penal colony was established.
original Australians

Modern Celebrations

Australia Day is one of the biggest holidays in the country. Schools and businesses are closed either on the actual day, or on the next workday if it falls on a weekend. With a whole day off, people have time to celebrate! Families enjoy backyard barbecues and parties. But wait, wouldn't it be cold to have a cookout in January? Yes, if you live in America. But Australia is in the southern hemisphere, which means that its seasons are the opposite of ours, so for them January is a warm weather month.

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