In Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, on Thursday, social media showed large crowds gathered at an “Invasion Day” rally in the central business district, where some people carried Aboriginal flags.
Similar protests against “Australia Day” also took place in other Australian state capitals, including Melbourne, Adelaide, and Brisbane.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in Australia’s capital, Canberra, honored the nation’s indigenous people and said, “Let us all recognize the unique privilege that we have to share this continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture.”
While it was a “difficult day” for indigenous Australians, there are no plans to change the holiday’s date, he said, however.
The January 26th public holiday marks the date British fleet sailed into Sydney Harbor in 1788 to start a penal colony, viewing the land as unoccupied despite encountering settlements.
There are growing public calls to change the date of “Australia Day,” which is known to many indigenous people as Invasion Day and Survival Day, because of the disastrous impacts of British colonists taking the land of First Nations people without a treaty.
“If someone invaded your home, murdered your family, and stole your land, I can 100 percent guarantee that family would not be celebrating that day,” indigenous activist Paul Silva said, adding the national holiday should be abolished.
Several councils have moved their citizenship ceremonies, traditionally held on January 26, to other days. Moreover, amid the debate, some companies also have adopted flexibility around observance of the holiday.
Indigenous Australians have lived on the Australian Continent for at least 65,000 years, but have suffered widespread discrimination and oppression since the arrival of the British in 1788. Australian historian Lyndall Ryan has estimated that more than 10,000 indigenous people were killed in 400 separate massacres since British colonization first began.
At present, many of Australia’s 880,000 or so indigenous people out of a population of 25 million lag behind others on economic and social indicators in what the government calls “entrenched inequality.”
This year’s holiday comes as Albanese’s center-left Labor Party government plans a referendum on recognizing indigenous people in the constitution, and requiring consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives.
The government plans to introduce legislation in March to set up the referendum that will take place later this year, as the voice of the indigenous shapes up as a key federal political issue.
The Australian constitution, which came into effect in January 1901 and can’t be amended without a referendum, does not refer to the country’s indigenous people. Indigenous people were even banned from voting in some states and territories until the 1960’s.