It is interesting to explore the significance of dates. Captain Arthur Phillip might have hoisted the flag in Sydney Cove on 26th January 1788 but then Lieutenant James Cook had already claimed the Eastern Coast of the continent for the British on 22 August 1770.
And of course, Australia didn’t exist as a nation until 1st January, 1901. Significantly none of these momentous occasions acknowledged the very obvious fact that the land was already occupied, utilised and managed by Aboriginal Australia long before any of these events occurred.
Long forgotten perhaps, Australia Day was first celebrated in Yass and elsewhere on 30 July 1915 to raise funds to support World War I troops. The Premier of NSW made an impassioned plea to all loyal Australians to do their utmost to raise funds “to enable the Red Cross organisation to provide comforts and nursing assistance for sick and wounded soldiers and sailors” The response from the Yass district was outstanding.
The Yass Courier exhorts “We are out for a record. No sum is too small no cheque is too big” In Yass the procession and entertaining pageant entries such as the “sarcastic allusion effigy to the Yass Tram”, with the street tastefully decorated in colour coordinated ensigns, encouraged the fundraising.
At Wargeila, Mr. and Mrs. John Horton generously prepared their grounds and woolshed for a sports day and dance. Guessing competitions, donations for raffles and prizes were all generously supported.
At Binalong the streets were decorated for a street parade of gaily decorated cars and school students presented “a pleasing spectacle, dressed as some of them were as Red Cross nurses and soldiers. After rendering some patriotic songs, they marched in procession to the sports ground” A dummy wounded soldier at the auction sale “called forth some spirited bidding, which realised in all £23, which shows how much a wounded soldier is appreciated.”
The bazaar was opened on Thursday night, and continued on Friday night, when the hall was fairly packed with an enthusiastic gathering.
The proceedings were brought to a close on Saturday night by a social, which was again thronged. The total proceeds amounted to £640.
At Galong the sports, concert and ball were expected to raise between £600 and £700. The Rye Park sports day was expected to clear about £100.
People gave what they could. Coolalie schoolchildren donated “Fat sheep, Jack Davis; bag of chaff, Edward Burgess; pair of pictures, Arthur Boyton; 1 turkey, Lovell Sheldrick; 1 fowl, Will Devlin; 1 basket vegetables, Lilly James; cushion, Clare Davis. Mrs. Brasington donated 1 pair of canaries; Mrs. Wilesmith and Mrs. Burgess gave a set of afternoon teaspoons; In the afternoon a very dainty lunch was provided, and a small charge made. At the conclusion of the day the proceeds reached £19/0/9, which was most gratifying.”
Such was the first Australia Day in the Yass District on 30 July 1915. By 1935 all States had begun to celebrate 26 January, rather than their own original settlement dates, although it was called Anniversary Day in NSW or often referred to as Foundation Day.
In 1946 the Commonwealth and States formally agreed to 26 January although before 1994 it was simply designated as the Monday closest to 26 January.
Judith Davidson for Yass and District Historical Society