Thousands of Australians are rallying across the country to change the history of Australia Day – with what was once an unremarkable day on the calendar now a day of division.
Demonstrators are taking to the streets in every state and territory on Thursday with organized marches as many choose not to observe the national holiday, protesting the holiday when the first raft landed at Sydney Cove.
Crowds gathered in the early hours of the morning in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – all three rallies with the theme ‘sovereignty before voice’ – in response to the federal government’s proposal for a voice in Parliament.
The rally in Sydney began with a smoking ceremony, followed by traditional dancing and a country acknowledgment by Uncle Dave Bell.
An early morning crowd gathers at Gudigal Land in Bellmore Park in Sydney’s CBD ahead of the Invasion Day march (pictured).
Heavy police presence was also seen in the park grounds.
Speakers called for local autonomy and criticized the referendum for a local voice in parliament.
Activist and Dinghoti, Gumbanggir, Bandjalung woman, Aunty Lizzie Jarrett asked the audience to vote no.
‘Liberal, Labour, the system is not for black people,’ he said in response to cheers from the crowd.
‘We don’t want a voice, we have a voice. We don’t want whitewashing.
‘When the time comes. Vote ‘No’ in the referendum. Don’t come here and tick the box.’
Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi attended the march and posted photos of the smoking ceremony on Twitter.
‘Today I join First Nations people in celebrating January 26 as Invasion Day, as I have done for many years. This is a day of mourning,’ wrote Ms Farooqui.
‘We are calling for First Nations justice and we are calling for a treaty in this country.’
The theme of this year’s rally is ‘Sovereignty before Voice’ in response to the federal government’s proposal for Voice in Parliament.
The rally began with a smoking ceremony, followed by a traditional dance (pictured) and an acknowledgment of country by Uncle Dave Bell.
Hundreds of people braved the 27C temperature wearing native flag clothing.
Signs read ‘We deserve better than just one vote’ and ‘Don’t vote for the referendum’.
Counter-protesters in support of Australia Day were seen standing across the rally holding Australian flags and placards.
A woman was shown holding an ‘I Support Australia Day’ sign before police arrived and led the group away.
The sails of the Sydney Opera House were lit up with Indigenous artworks celebrating First Nations women around the waters of Sydney Harbor by proud Kamilaroi woman and artist, Rhonda Sampson.
Before the demonstration, hundreds gathered in Barangaroo for the WugulOra morning ceremony to honor First Nations people and reflect on what the day means to them.
An ancient smoking ceremony was held to ‘clear the way for new beginnings’ and celebrate the world’s oldest living culture through dance, music and language.
Counter-protesters in support of Australia Day stand across the street from the Invasion Day rally carrying Australian flags and placards (pictured)
Police quickly escorted counter-protesters (pictured)
Attendees witnessed special performances by Torres Strait Islander dancers and singers such as the Komori Aboriginal Dance Group.
The march also began at Grimma Place in Canberra, with hundreds of people gathering in the sunshine at 9.30am.
A sign hanging in the park reads ‘Self-determination is not imprisonment’.
Meanwhile, activists gathered at Fogarty Park in Cairns from 9am.
Protests are planned in every state and territory, with Brisbane starting at 10am from Queen’s Gardens, Hobart from 10.45am, Darwin from 10.30am, Adelaide from midday, Perth from 12pm and Melbourne from Victoria Parliament House in the morning. It will start at 11 o’clock.
Non-Indigenous Australians have been celebrating as ‘Australia Day’ for 29 years.
The day is a historic day that holds deep, cultural significance for Indigenous Australians and is an opportunity to advocate for the deaths of Torres Strait Islanders and detainees.
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