Sydney ‘Invasion Day’ protesters have worked around last-minute rulings from the government to push on with COVID-safe demonstrations, as Australians mark January 26 in different ways around the country.
Groups of 500 people gathered together in The Domain to “stand in solidarity” after NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard formally refused an exemption to crowd limits, a decision made late on Monday night.
The state’s restrictions cap outdoor event numbers at 500, but more than 1000 people have shown up so far. Police told the ABC they had been asking protestors to gather in separate groups of 500 since 9am.
“We urge all people who support our cause to still turn up,” the Fighting in Solidarity Towards Treaties, who helped organise the rally, said on their Facebook event page on Monday night.
“We have done everything in our power to make this rally safe from both the pandemic and police.
“Stopping the violence that black lives and black land faces every day is too important to put on hold and we will be there [on Tuesday] to fight for change.”
Conservative lobby group Advance Australia paid for the letters “Aus Day” to be written in the sky above Sydney to counter the Invasion Day rally.
Melbourne’s demonstration went ahead despite the city’s annual Australia Day parade being called off.
Attendees, however, were called into lines to adhere to the state’s COVID-safe protocols.
In Canberra, more than 1000 people gathered for an Invasion Day rally, which marched from the nation’s capital tent embassy to Parliament House.
The ABC reported the Aboriginal elders addressed the seated crowd to “share their experiences of oppression discrimination” and survival.
“It is not just Australia Day that is the focus here today. There are signs and banners addressing issues like deaths in custody, constitutional recognition, treaties.”
A day of mixed emotions
Prime Minister Scott Morrison says there is no escaping the fact January 26 marks the date Australia changed forever.
He said that is exactly why Australia Day should be held on the date each year.
“We do it on this day when the course of this land changed forever,” he said in Canberra on Tuesday morning.
“There is no escaping or cancelling that fact, for better or worse.”
Mr Morrison said January 26, the day Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British sovereignty in 1788, marked the beginning of modern Australia.
Our stories since that day have been of sorrow and of joy, of loss and redemption, of failure and of success,” he said.
“We are now a nation of more than 25 million stories. All important, all unique, and all to be respected.”
British colonisation led to widespread massacres, oppression and dispossession of Indigenous people from land they had inhabited for more than 60,000 years.
The Prime Minister delivered the keynote address at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, attended by the governor-general and other dignitaries.
A C-130 Hercules transport plane pierced the clouds and an enormous flag was suspended from an Army helicopter, before 25 new citizens made their pledge to Australia.
Australia Day in Sydney began at dawn with the Sydney Opera House sails lit with First Nations art.
Shortly after first light, the Aboriginal flag was raised alongside the Australian flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Similar early morning ceremonies were held across the country.
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said it was a “difficult day” for First Australians.
“For the First Australians, you can understand that this is a very difficult day for them,” he said.
“It is one of heartache and one in which they recognise what occurred to their people.”