Thousands of people carrying placards and Aboriginal flags have swarmed Australia’s city centres as part of a growing movement to lament Australia Day as ‘Invasion Day’
Sydney’s Hyde Park was packed with protestors advocating a change in the date, while more than 10,000 people were estimated to have gathered outside Melbourne’s Flinders Street Station.
Those shunning the popularised backyard barbecue or beachside outing were marking their opposition to the celebration of a national day on January 26, which commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet.
Advocates of a change of date say the occasion is one of sorrow for Indigenous Australians as it marks the colonisation and subsequent mistreatment of the country’s First People.
It was a tale of two rallies however, as nearby, traditional Australia Day parades also attracted huge crowds. Those events were packed with attendees decked out in green and gold or Australian flag colours waving flags and blow-up kangaroos.
The sense of celebration was palpable and the smiles were widespread.
But at the ‘Invasion Day’ rallies, the mood was far more sombre. People weren’t just talking about the date. They were also taking the opportunity to raise issues of acceptance.
Impassioned crowds cheered speakers who spoke of injustice surrounding indigenous deaths in custody, the forced adoption of indigenous children and gaps in life expectancy.
At the Sydney rally, Gomeroi elder Sue-Ellen Tighe, who leads anti-forced adoption group Grandmothers Against Removals argued the forced removal of Indigenous children had jumped 400 per cent since the 2008 apology to the Stolen Generation.
From the pavement of Bourke Street in Melbourne, Ashanta Tolley told The New Daily passers-by had once made ape calls towards her while busking with her guitar on the streets of Melbourne.
— Farrah Plummer (@FarrahPlummer) January 26, 2019
She said she came to the rally imbued with frustration and anger, but also celebration and pride for her people – the small tribe of Tjapukai in Queensland.
“It’s great to participate with my heritage and be able to get painted up and be proud of who I am, rather than be scared I’m going to receive any kind of prejudice,” Ms Tolley said.
“This is the only country I ever experience racism in,” she said.
“A lot of people do want to have a day where we celebrate our country, but we just want to have it on a day where we’re all equal.”
A brief scuffle interrupted Melbourne’s ‘Invasion Day’ event, with police reportedly moving two people along. Overall, they said the protestors were well behaved.
One woman was carrying a sign that read: “To defend my country was once called patriotism now it’s called racism”.
Melbourne Invasion Day rally co-organiser of the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance group Meriki Onus told The New Daily she believed more people attended the protest than the Australia Day parade.
She provided a litany of complaints about the police presence, claiming police had confiscated their truck and sound system and had redirected their march through the CBD.
“A riot almost broke out at the front of this train station and we had to try and stop it with no microphones. We were left vulnerable to fascists because they took that,” Ms Onus said.
Melbourne West Area Commander Senior Sergeant Mick Wilmott told The New Daily the organisers’ truck had been confiscated at the start of the rally because the driver didn’t have authorisation.
“There was one minor incident, but the people were well behaved and compliant,” Sen Sgt Wilmott said.
The rise of Invasion Day
University of Technology Sydney Associate Professor of Law Thalia Anthony told The New Daily protests had seen a “rejuvenation” with numbers similar to those protesting the bicentennial celebration of 200 years of British settlement.
“This is largely pivoting on the Change The Date campaign fuelling a lot of public awareness and we are seeing more and more people engaged in the rallies,” Assoc Prof Anthony said.
The UTS professor with expertise in procedure for Indigenous people said “change the date” had created a “completely different” conversation around treaties, sovereignty and land rights.
“The change the date is a bit of a distraction, but nonetheless it has put in the public consciousness a questioning: What does Australia Day mean?”