Celebrating Father’s Day means socks, BBQs, chocolate, handcrafted gifts and cards, a sleep-in, children jumping on the bed with excitement, a celebration of fatherhood, shaving cream, family visits, playing in the park, memorable experiences, granddads, slippers, hugs and mugs.

You may believe Celebrating Father’s Day in Australia is a time-honoured tradition. However, like its counterpart, Mother’s Day, these special observances started in the 20th century. Father’s Day is not a public holiday. Instead, it falls on the 1st Sunday of September in Australia.

Unlike the USA, which celebrates dads in June (along with many other countries), Australia joins New Zealand, Fiji and Papua New Guinea with a September celebration. So why the difference? And, how did September get chosen for an Australian Father’s Day?

In Dear Dad: Celebrating Father’s Day, we narrow in on the answers with a search through history and Australia’s (treasure) Trove. We hope our discoveries bring children and families a deeper meaning to this treasured holiday for dads. Learn more about:

A did sits with his daughter for morning tea for a early childhood Father's Day in Australia.

The history of Father’s Day in Australia

Speculation surrounds the official start of Father’s Day in Australia. Some say it is tied to the celebration of Mother’s Day. Then, there are claims it was influenced by Father’s Day in the USA, while others link it to the Middle Ages and the Catholic Feast Day of St Joseph.

An American Tradition?

In the 1900s, a Father’s Day movement in the US slowly gained support. The first local Father’s Day service was held in 1908 to honour the death of miners in West Virginia. However, Sonora Smart Dodd is credited for the movement’s start in 1910. She inspired her church to celebrate all fathers, in the tradition of Mother’s Day.

At first, the US movement didn’t gain much traction as there was concern it was a commercial gimmick, but in the 1930’s Sonora renewed the call to have a holiday in June (aligning with her dad’s birthday) and with the help of trade interests the idea spread nationally.

In the US, the national celebration of fathers was officially recognised in 1972. Like Australia, it is not a public holiday. In modern times, Father’s Day is celebrated all over the world. While June is a popular month, some countries like Australia honour fathers and father-like figures at different times.

ALT: A man holds a photo of a child holding a sign set in a handcrafted purple and blue frame, while the boy holds onto the man and they share a bite to each thanks to the Australian Father's Day movement.

The Australian Father’s Day movement

In our search for the truth behind Australia’s Father’s Day, we discovered this special event has some similarities to the American movement. One of the first mentions, accompanied by a witty cartoon originates in 1917.

“We asked a lady we know was it true that there was a movement on foot to institute a “Father’s Day?” She said, “No! certainly not!… Father had a day whenever he felt inclined.”

– The Land (Sydney, NSW), Friday, May 18 1917, page 14 via Trove.

On June 2, 1925, there was a Father’s Day notice on page 5 in Parramatta’s The Cumberland Argus and Fruitgrowers Advocate. It mentioned the 2nd Sunday of June was set aside for Father’s Day and asked for donations to cheer up the men in the Lidcombe Asylum.

The next collection of Father’s Day notices appeared in the 1930s. They cover a broad geographical area announcing an event or day to celebrate the role of fathers.  Of note is a mention in the Western Australia Boyup Brook Bulletin on Friday, March 2, 1934, titled, “What we see and hear.”

The news article describes a meeting of husbands who seek to petition the local member for the district to bring into force one day a year to be called “Father’s Day”. It is suggested that the day be held during a period “between the wives’ local visits to relations, metropolis, seaside, etc”. A humorous poem followed.

An extract from Perth's Daily News on August 28, 1935. It begins: "Affectionately, he's knowns as the "Old Man"; but he's still young in spirit and finds as much delight in a smart, well selected gift as the next fellow - probably more, especially as the gift will come from his own family...."

A year and a half later, on August 28 1935, Perth’s Daily News printed a short notice about the first “Western Australia Father’s Day” to be held on the first Sunday of September.

The next day, the same newspaper printed the aims of Father’s Day surrounded by commercial advertising encouraging giving gifts to fathers (seen above):

“Fathers’ Day, which is rapidly achieving equally wide recognition, was inspired by the same sentiments as Mothers Day — affection and gratitude to the head of the household and support of the family.”

– Daily News, Thursday, August 29 1935, page 12 via Trove.

The first official and national father’s day event

Support for this annual event honouring the role fathers and father figures have at home continued to spread throughout Australia. Finally, in 1958 with the added support of a Father’s Day Council, a national Father’s Day was officially designated for the first Sunday in September.

It is possible that the date’s significance in Australia originates from 1934, when the group of dads in Boyup Western Australia, took their wives into consideration and suggested a time be chosen that avoided holiday fatigue.

A special person and role model in a spiderman costume holds a boy in a green hat. They are holding a sign, "Super Dad" and celebrating Father's Day.

Celebrating Father’s Day in early childhood

According to the papers in 1958, Father’s Day was an expression of love, devotion and gratitude. Today these same sentiments still hold true with diverse and different family structures. It continues to celebrates fatherhood but also extends to honour special people in our lives.

In early childhood, celebrating Father’s Day is an opportunity for entire families and communities to bond. It is a special day set aside for us to show our gratitude and appreciation. An inclusive approach to Father’s Day and Mother’s Day means children from diverse families feel welcome and join in.

This annual event honours extraordinary people who are role models in our lives. It includes dads, step-dads, foster dads, grandfathers, paternal bonds, influencers, uncles and parents of LGBTQ+ families.

Sentiments associated with the occasion include:

  • Celebrating fatherhood.
  • Spending quality time with the people you love.
  • Building strong and meaningful relationships.
  • Showing acts of kindness and how much we care.
  • Saying thank you for being there.
  • Recognising the contributions that our father figures have made.
  • Showing gratitude for parental support.
  • Giving our dads or special people a day off.
  • Supporting the people we love.
  • Making our father figures feel special, needed and appreciated.
  • Appreciating our fathers’ humour.
  • Nurturing a sense of belonging.
  • Creating memorable experiences to last a lifetime.
  • Family gatherings.
A dear Dad sits in a wicker chair holding two children in his lap, a preschooler and a toddler. They sit in front of a display with decorations that say, "Super Dad" and "Happy Father's Day".

Dear Dad: Short messages for handcrafted cards

Some of the sentiments shared above hold wonderful messages for handcrafted cards. Handmade gifts and cards are unique. They provide ample space to show our appreciation for fathers. However, dads treasure all gifts, even the small ones. It is the thought that counts.

Handmade cards can be created from repurposed cereal boxes, a4 paper, or craft paper available at your local newsagent. Making and giving a “limited edition card” from recycled cardboard tailored for your special person is a fun, heartfelt experience that promotes sustainability.

Plus, you and your children can do anything with a blank card. You can paint it, colour it with markers and glue things onto it, such as natural materials. You can also add your own message.

Here are some Dear Dad greeting card messages inspired by our Father’s Day sentiments:

Dear Dad, –

  1. Take today off. Mum has you covered.
  2. I love you to the moon and back times Graham’s number to the power of infinity, plus one.
  3. Can we plant these seeds together today? When they grow, they’ll remind me of your courage, strength and spending time together.
  4. Thank you for carrying me on your shoulders.
  5. I love your kindness, your dad jokes and how you make me want to be the best version of myself.
  6. I love you!! Hugs & Kisses. XX00

The best card messages are the ones already in our hearts. So, when decorating a handmade card, encourage children to share how they feel.

A child's special person honours Father's Day traditions by sitting on a small stool so a child holding a cotton tip painting the man's face blue with makeup. The man is wearing a handcrafted tie.

Honouring traditions and small treasures on Father’s Day

During our search on Trove, we came across a few time honoured traditions and small treasures suggested as Father’s Day gifts, including:

  • Cake and tea. Children love cooking, and you can turn this into a modern treat for dads as a cooking experience for the entire family.
  • Shirts. We suggest modernising this into an original hand-printed t-shirt.
  • Books. These small treasures never get old.
  • Ties: There are a few ways to make these time-honoured traditions. One of our favourites is with pipe cleaners, folded tissue paper and tape.
  • Board Games: Fathers love to play games with the family. We suggest encouraging children to make their own game, like snakes and ladders made with repurposed cardboard and trinkets from around your home.
  • Card Games: Many families still sit around and play cards together.

Dads aren’t worried about how big or small a gift is or whether it is store-bought or homemade. If you are still not sure what to give your dad take a look at these ideas:

Spending time together is the most treasured gift you can give your dad or special person on Father’s Day. However, we realise that sometimes it’s not always possible to be with the ones you love.

So, pop some “time” into a glass container, seal it and label it with the message: “Dear Dad, Here is some time in a bottle just for us.” Then, share it or save it for a day when you can be together.

On Father’s Day it is the sentiment counts.

A man sitting next to a wooden table looks down into the eyes of his daughter while celebrating Father's Day with other families.

Celebrate families with Petit Early Learning Journey

At Petit ELJ, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day and Grandparents Day are some of the family celebrations we embrace. In early childhood education and care, family involvement creates special bonds and helps improve children’s learning outcomes.

We believe that families and children benefit greatly through open, honest and respectful communication. Awe-inspiring discoveries happen when we are able to connect and share information and experiences.

Discover how we can support your family. Contact your local service to begin a conversation.