28 December in 1836 is remembered in South Australia as “Proclamation Day” because it was then that Captain John Hindmarsh stood by the Old Gum Tree and read the official proclamation of the new colony’s existence.
The date of Proclamation Day was later moved from 28 December to the first work day following Christmas, which is typically 26 December. Reenactments of the events of South Australia’s founding, however, are still held on the 28th by the remains of the Old Gum Tree. The 26th is an off-work day that helps to create an extended Christmas break. It is also a day of public celebrations and of formal ceremonies by many government officials.
The proclamation was put into print by Robert Thomas, who arrived at Holdfast Bay on the ship Africaine with the first printing press ever to enter South Australia. A fleet of 10 ships total carried the original colonists to nearby Nepean Bay just earlier, but Thomas went ahead and made preparations for the formal founding ceremony. John Hindmarsh, who became the first governor, followed on December 28th to publicly read the proclamation.
The proclamation calls upon the colonists to “conduct themselves with order and quietness,” to be law-abiding citizens, to follow after industry, sobriety, and morality, and to observe the Christian religion. By so doing, they would prove to be worthy founders of a “great free colony.” They were admonished that the existing Aboriginal population were now considered British subjects and entitled to the same protection of the law as were they.
Those who committed “acts of violence or injustice” on them would be punished with “exemplary severity.” The intention was also indicated of introducing the natives to the benefits of civilization and of working for their conversion to the Christian faith. The proclamation ends with a resounding, “God save the king!”
The reenactment of the founding of South Australia, complete with a reading of the official proclamation, is held at the Old Gum Tree Reserve by the Holdfast Bay City Council every December 28th. All are welcome to attend, and at the end of the reenactment, there is a celebration and free food for visitors. Many also head to the nearby beach and swim or have a picnic.
Three places of historical importance that one ought consider visiting on or near Proclamation Day are mentioned below. All three of these buildings are situated on the “cultural boulevard” of North Terrace right in South Australia’s capital city of Adelaide.
- The Art Gallery of South Australia. This is a visual art museum that houses more than 35,000 works, which makes it the second-largest art museum in Australia. Only the National Gallery of Victoria is has a larger collection. It is well known for its Aboriginal, colonial, and British art collections. It contains numerous paintings done by Australian artists, and there are also a number of sculptures present.
- The State Library of South Australia. This is the state of South Australia’s official public library, and it is the largest public library in the whole state. While there is much general reference information, works and documentary heritage specific to South Australia is particularly abundant. The South Australiana Collection includes newspapers, journals, and other documents that span from the pre-settlement period to the present. It also covers the Northern Territory up until 1911. Besides print copy, you can peruse much information in digital format as well. If the kids might seem to be left out on a “field trip” like this, that problem is solved by the Children’s Literature Research Collection, which has tens of thousands of books, comic books, magazines, board games, and toys for them to enjoy.
- The South Australian Museum. This is a natural history museum that houses the most comprehensive collection of Aboriginal artifacts on the planet. The exhibits include: the
Australian Aboriginal Cultures Gallery, the Pacific Cultures Gallery, the South Australian Biodiversity Gallery, the World Mammals Gallery, the Fossils Gallery, the Minerals and Meteorites Gallery, and the Ancient Egyptian Room.
Proclamation Day in South Australia is a great time to vacation at resorts, visit the beach, and tour Adelaide. However, the reenactment at the Old Gum Tree should not be missed, and the three museums mentioned above will greatly aid in appreciating the history of South Australia, the beginning of which this holiday commemorates.