Historically, 26 January marks the anniversary of when the First Fleet first arrived in 1788 in what was soon labelled by the first colonisers as Sydney Cove. While this occurred more than two centuries ago, the public holiday was relatively recently added to Australia’s national holiday calendar just 30 years ago. 

For some, 26 January is a time to recognise the shared history of all Australians since that day in 1788 and a chance to reflect on where we are on our journey to Reconciliation as a nation. However, for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including many of our staff and the people we serve and work alongside, the implications of the day weigh heavily on them. It remains an annual reminder of the long-term impact created by British settlers.

While there is much to celebrate about the society that has been built over this time, it is important to keep front of mind that it is a society that has come at a cost to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As such, I would like to acknowledge our First Nations clients, residents, partners, supporters, and our staff working within and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – we know that this day brings hurt and pain for many of you.

While an increasingly contested day, 26 January offers us, both individually and collectively, an opportunity to be better informed, more sensitive and empathetic to the various views about the national holiday. It is also an opportunity to highlight the enduring, unacceptable level of disadvantage and inequity that remains between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous people.

This is especially important following the outcome of the Voice Referendum and as we see successive Closing the Gap reports showing limited progress on targets for improving the wellbeing of First Nations peoples.

The rich heritage of the world’s oldest continuing culture gives us much to celebrate; it is a heritage we should all treasure and protect. Which is why Mission Australia believes that 26 January is an opportunity to reflect on this and on how we as a society can double down on our commitment and efforts to create a reconciled and equitable Australia.

We all must continue to feel safe and valued while working at Mission Australia. As a Christian charity, we acknowledge, love and respect all people. We also acknowledge that on 26 January many of our First Nations staff will not want to celebrate the public holiday. Therefore, we have made it a priority to ensure staff have the option to work that day and then receive another day off at a different time.

As we continue on our Reconciliation journey at Mission Australia, my commitment to hearing the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who we work with and who we serve is strengthened each day. We all must play a role in addressing injustice and inequality, acknowledging the past and fighting for a better future for all Australians. 

Together we stand, and strive every day to take braver, more impactful actions towards Reconciliation.


Photo of Sharon, CEO of Mission Australia.


Sharon Callister
CEO Mission Australia


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