Indigenous activists lead “Invasion Day” protests demanding date change
Thousands of people have gathered for rallies in capital cities across Australia to protest January 26 as Australia Day and call for changing the date. The controversial national holiday marks the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships to Sydney Cove where the British flag was raised, signifying the beginning of colonization.
Indigenous activists and their supporters marched through major cities on Thursday in the annual “Invasion Day” demonstrations. Protesters called Australia Day a “day of mourning” and say it disregards indigenous people. The marches called for better rights for the Aboriginal community, including changing the national day to a date that does notexclude them.
Protestors marching in Invasion Day rally in Sydney (Photo Credit: Getty Images)
In Sydney, thousands walked through the streets toward Victoria Park chanting “always was, always will be Aboriginal land.” Some demonstrators carried signs that read “No Pride in Genocide”.
The New South Wales health minister Brad Hazzard granted an exemption from COVID-19 restrictions limiting outdoor gatherings to allow the rallies to proceed. Association spokesman Graham Quinlivan said it was an opportunity for all Australians to stand in solidarity.
Indigenous leaders speak at rallies to packed crowds
At an “Invasion Day” dawn service in Melbourne, hundreds gathered as the Aboriginal flag was raised. Leaders like Lidia Thorpe, the first Indigenous woman elected to the Parliament of Victoria, addressed the crowds, urging Australians to “turn this day of sorrow and mourning into a day of action”.
Wiradjuri woman Crystal McKinnon told assembled crowds in Sydney that “mourning never ends” for indigenous Australians. At Melbourne’s Invasion Day rally she explained the intergenerational trauma that has destroyed families since the First Fleet arrived.
“We are often asked when we will get over it? The simple truth is that trauma of this magnitude does not heal easily, it haunts generations. We ask you to walk with us.” – Crystal McKinnon.
In major cities, Indigenous speakers highlighted how January 26 only represents the start of violence and dispossession. They described the day as representing cultural genocide of songlines, stories, languages that tied Aboriginal First Nations peoples to Country for 60,000 years.
Yorta Yorta woman Lidia Thorpe said only substantive institutional change, a process of truth-telling, and for January 26 to be recognized as a “Day of Mourning” by all Australians will help to ameliorate the harms.
Government restrictions on protests condemned
The New South Wales government continues to face criticisms for trying to block the rallies from going ahead. Despite securing the Sydney rally on the day, the New South Wales government was accused of breaching human rights by the UN.
Protesters at other Invasion Day rallies across the country told reporters they also experienced intense police scrutiny. In Brisbane, officers appeared to single out Aboriginal activists, asking for identification and proof on COVID vaccination.
Political groups the Greens and independents joined Aboriginal protest leaders in condemning these restrictions on the right to protest, especially on a significant day. Lidia Thorpe said “The Guardian”:
“Any attack on people’s freedom to protest on our day of mourning by the NSW Liberal government is disgusting and must be condemned – especially because they seem to have no issue with other groups holding rallies on this date”
Greens senator Lydia Thorpe addresses crowds in Melbourne on 26 January 2023 at an Invasion Day rally. Photograph: James Ross/AAP
Calls to change the date of Australia Day intensify
This year saw renewed calls led by high-profile sports stars and the Australian Greens Party to change the date of Australia Day away from “Invasion Day” on January 26. They argue the date represents the beginning of violent colonization for First Nations peoples.
Aboriginal flags are now a prominent sight at the Australian Open tennis tournament, an absence organizers and tennis stars have been criticized over in previous years.
Australia’s national soccer teams also released a video calling for a shift of the national holiday away from January 26th out of recognition for First Peoples.
“As a sport we have a platform and responsibility to raise awareness and educate,” said Socceroos defender Aziz Behich. “We stand with the Indigenous players, fans, participants and community in the push to change the date.”
Other Australian sports organizations and clubs across the football codes put out statements in support of changing the date.
While conservative politicians continue to resist announcing a new date, pressure rises from state governments, corporates, NGOs and the wider public to move Australia Day.
The newly elected Labor government also faces pressure from their political base to hold a referendum or consider alternative national days that could better unify all Australians.
As calls increase to recognize January 26 as a Day of Mourning, Lidia Thorpe told crowds that the movement will continue fighting until the “Invasion Day” date is changed:
“We don’t stop just because they refuse to act on January 26. Our resistance continues every single day until there is justice for First Nations people.”
|Approx. Rally Attendance
Table showing estimated attendance figures at Invasion Day rallies across major Australian cities
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