News National Protests and celebrations mark Australia Day as people are urged to reflect on the good and the bad

Protests and celebrations mark Australia Day as people are urged to reflect on the good and the bad

Australia Day
Australia Day was marked with mixed emotions across the nation on Wednesday. Photo: AAP
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With the theme of ‘Reflect, Respect, Celebrate’, this year’s Australia Day brought up mixed emotions around the country as people reckoned with what it means to mark January 26.

As more and more people turn away from celebrating Australia Day, the official program made a point of embracing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, such as by projecting the Goanna Songline artwork by Aṉangu elder David Miller on the Sydney Opera House.

“Today is a day for optimism and positivity about the great country we’re all blessed to live in,” Scott Morrison told reporters at a citizenship ceremony in Canberra.

Mr Morrison congratulated 19 new citizens who were conferred at the ceremony, while also paying tribute to newly crowned Australian of the Year Dylan Alcott.

On the other side of Lake Burley Griffin, Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

The two ceremonies highlighted the increasing divide of January 26 between those who see it as a celebration of nationhood, and those who see it as a day of mourning, resistance and survival.

Australia Day
Scott Morrison attended the National Australia Day Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in Canberra, while on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin, protesters commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Photo: AAP

“It’s about acknowledgement and honouring our ancestors, the founding families and traditional owners of country,” said Ngambri man Paul Girrawah House, who was one of the organisers of the Tent Embassy event.

“Our land was never ceded. It was stolen without consent or treaty and we’ve never been compensated for our loss.”

Invasion Day
Invasion Day protesters marched in Canberra and many other cities around the country. Photo: Getty

In Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, tens of thousands of people filled the streets in protest.

“Today’s a national holiday where you’re told to go and have a barbecue and a beer … to celebrate our genocide,” a speaker at the Sydney rally told the crowd.

January 26, 1788, is when the First Fleet landed in Botany Bay, Sydney, and began the colonisation of what is now Australia.

“I pay my respects to all First Nations people here, to all of us feeling proud to be here today yet sad in knowing why we have to stand here,” the speaker added.

“Why do we have to promote our invasion to make sure Australia sees us, to make sure our murders stop, the raping of our women, the stealing of our children, the poisoning of our land and rivers, the denunciation of our languages. It’s disgusting.”

Captain Cook statue
Activists splashed red paint on a statue of Captain Cook in Melbourne. Photo: AAP

The Melbourne protest was called off due to COVID concerns. However, a statue of Captain Cook in the city was smeared with red paint.

Away from the protests, official ceremonies around the country showcased Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture while also embracing the multiculturalism of modern Australia.

For many, this also meant a day off at the beach, or a barbecue with family and friends.

In Darwin, an all-day program headlined by ARIA-winning duo Electric Fields included traditional dances as well as multicultural performances.

Australia Day
Many Australians used their public holiday to have a barbecue or head to the beach. This sign at Melbourne’s St Kilda beach was written on the back of a corflute for Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party. Photo: Getty

Northern Territory senator and Yanyuwa woman Malarndirri McCarthy said Australia “prides itself on our ability to agree and disagree on matters of debate, provided it’s done respectfully.”

Writing in the NT News, the senator called on Australians to use the public holiday to reflect on everything – the good and the bad.

“We can get up early in the morning on Australia Day and remember the atrocities of our past,” Ms McCarthy wrote.

“We can also appreciate the diversity and achievements of this nation, which so many people call home.”