Australia Day is celebrated annually on January 26 as the official national day of the country. This marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip. Celebrations mirroring the diverse society and landscape of the nation include community and family events such as barbecues and picnics, festivals, fireworks, and commemorations on Australian history. Community awards and citizenship ceremonies for new members of the Australian community also characterize the day. The day also highlights the presentation of the Australian of the Year Award, the announcement of the Australia Day Honours list and the messages from the Governor-General and the Prime Minister.
Australian of the Year Award
The Award is conferred on an Australian citizen by the National Australia Day Council, a not-for-profit Australian Government–owned social enterprise. The award has been part of the celebration of Australia Day since 1960. It has grown in significance to become one of Australia’s pre-eminent awards, with the official announcement becoming a public event at ceremonies nationally televised from Canberra. It offers “an insight into Australian identity, reflecting the nations’ evolving relationship with the world, the role of sport in Australian culture, the impact of multiculturalism, and the special status of Indigenous Australians. It has also provoked spirited debate about the fields of endeavor that are most worthy of public recognition.”
Composed of three companion awards, recognizing Young and Senior Australians while proclaiming the efforts of those who work at a grass roots level through the “Australia’s Local Hero” award, it promotes active citizenship and seeks to elevate certain people as role models.
National Australia Day Council Chief Executive Warren Pearson says: “The awards program is not primarily about choosing four national recipients; it is about engaging with Australians about citizenship.”
The virologist Sir Macfarlane Burnet was the first Australian of the Year, voted in 1960 after he won a Nobel Prize for the year for predicting acquired immune tolerance and was best known for developing the theory of clonal selection. In 1978, he was made a Knight in the Order of Australia.
The 2019 award is shared by cave divers Craig Challen and Richard Harris who participated in Tham Luang cave rescue, an international operation to rescue 12 boys and one adult in Tham Luang Nang Non in Thailand. All members of a local football team, the boys and their assistant coach were trapped after heavy rains flooded the cave they were visiting on June 23, 2018.
The rescue operation which claimed the life of a 38-year old former Thai navy seal, involved over 1,000 people, including Thai Navy Seals and volunteers, teams and technical assistance from multiple countries. The lone fatality was attempting to return after delivering supplies of air to the cave on 5 July.