Proclamation Day is significant in the history of the City of Holdfast Bay.
It all began on 28 December 1836 when a flotilla of ships had already landed along with the Colonial Secretary Robert Gouger. A makeshift camp of tents and transportable huts had been established at the lagoons when the Cygnet and Buffalo vessels sailed into Holdfast Bay against a backdrop of fires in the Mount Lofty Ranges.
At 2.00pm, three boats came ashore containing the Vice Regal Party. In the first boat sat Governor Hindmarsh, his Secretary George Stevenson, the Resident Commissioner Hurtle Fisher and their families.
In the next boat came the Colonial Chaplain Rev CB Howard, the Colonial Treasurer Osmond Gilles and several others and in the third boat were 20 marines.
Temperatures in the shade on that day were hovering around 40C, so walking across the sand to the settlement was a hard task. The official party first entered Gouger's tent where the commission was read and the oaths administered to the Governor and his Council. They then emerged, and in open woodland beneath an old gum tree, Stevenson read the document known as the’ Proclamation of South Australia’. The Proclamation is still read at the annual re-enactment ceremony to this day.
In 1834, the British House of Commons had already passed 'A Bill to erect South Australia into a British Province and to provide for the colonisation thereof’. So this became a public celebration to honour the Governor's arrival and the commencement of his new office.
After the proclamation a light meal, which included dressed Hampshire ham, was served. At the conclusion of the festivities, the official party retired to the Buffalo.
It was by no means a ‘normal’ first celebration as all was not jovial after the official proceedings. Sailors became intoxicated, aborigines set fire to the woods and the settlers were disappointed at not being able to go to their allotments straight away.
It was in 1855, when Glenelg became a municipality, that the finding of the site where the Proclamation had first been read became important to Glenelgians. Once identified as Lot 82 of section 184, John Hector, the owner of the land transferred part of the allotment (62 feet square) to the Glenelg Corporation on the jubilee of South Australia's Coming of Age (28 December 1857). The site and the Old Gum Tree, (the latter now dead and incorporating large amounts of concrete) have become the place and icon for the birth of the State of South Australia.
The celebration of the State's coming of age in 1857 was Glenelg's first Proclamation Day event and probably the first major Proclamation Day celebration in the colony. Preparations for the 21st birthday celebrations began on a large scale in the township of Glenelg and at the site established as the site of the reading of the inaugural Proclamation. Flags were displayed and a sports festival of over 17 events organised. All sports had money as a reward. No sports were to take place between 12.00noon and 2.00pm, except for the sailing race, as that time was to be occupied by the ceremony and lunch. A gun was to fire at 11.45am to signal everyone to proceed to the tree and fire again at 12.00noon to notify that the ceremony at the tree had commenced. A salute was to be fired when the ceremony was over. A large pavilion was erected opposite the Government cottage, on what is now Wigley Reserve. However at noon it began to rain and it soon turned into a downpour. Over 10,000 visitors, in a variety of horse-drawn vehicles, had reached the scene. The Governor, Sir Richard MacDonnell, was going to put a tablet denoting the tree and its significance at the ceremony at the tree. However this was delayed due to the non-arrival of the Governor.
Two hours later, a waiting group of people hoisted the flag and broke a bottle of wine on its trunk. The Governor subsequently appeared and remained an occupant of the luncheon tent adjacent to the proclamation site. Very long speeches, toasts drunk in local South Australian wine and singing diverted attention from the leaking tent. The newly-formed Voluntary Artillery fired a 17 gun salute at the conclusion of the banquet. The football match did not take place because someone had forgotten to bring the balls from Adelaide and no one presented themselves for placing the stone. Sports were virtually cancelled in the afternoon and afterwards everyone made their way home.
This disastrous event did not deter the Glenelgians. Virtually every year thereafter they have held a Proclamation Day event until the present day, with the Council of the City of Holdfast Bay taking over after Glenelg and Brighton amalgamated in 1997. The format has remained much the same - the ceremony followed by a buffet lunch, but the only sports event is the running of the Bay-Sheffield.
The Governor, Premier, Mayor, Councillors and Mayors from other Councils are usually in attendance, as are representatives of the armed forces and descendants of the pioneers. When South Australia had her own naval vessels it was customary for these to be moored off the jetty on the day and for the vessels to fire a gun salute. People came by to watch in any way they could. Trains were popular after they were introduced and bicycles were mentioned in the newspaper reports in the 1890s. Visitor figures of over 50,000 were mentioned. Initially, only the male pioneers were invited but women were included in the 1880s. The women were invited by the Lady Mayoress and ate in separate areas. In 1895 a Pioneers’ Guest Book was established for the pioneers who attended the ceremony to sign and Council still has these records. It also became customary to display pioneer relics at the Town Hall on the day, another feature that has been stopped.
1886 was the Queen's Jubilee year and Proclamation Day turned out to be a huge event with the customary sports on land and water. Throughout the day 10 locomotives, 26 carriages and 5 trucks were in use and the numbers were thought to be 48,000 passengers on the Victoria Square line and 35,000 on the North Terrace line. A banner was slung between the Pier Hotel and the Institute Building (later to become the Town Hall) with 'Welcome to our Jubilee' and the Mayor entertained 250 old colonists at the Institute. To meet increased requirements, a foot patrol of 30 police and 10 troopers were sent from Adelaide.
1936 saw major celebrations and the first re-enactment of the 1836 arrival of the settlers and the proclamation ceremony and lunch. The 1986 Jubilee 150 Celebrations were along similar lines.
1993 saw a permanent link with Kangaroo Island established with the planting of a mulberry tree and the erection of a plaque.
The City of Holdfast Bay still holds the Proclamation Day ceremony on 28 December each year.