Australia celebrated its national holiday on Tuesday, for most it was a day of relaxing with friends and family.
However the date of Australia Day, January 26th is marred by controversy as it marks the beginning of British colonial settlement in Australia.
Indigenous Australians refer to the date as ‘Invasion Day” and each year protests are held against the national celebrations.
Asia Calling’s Jarni Blakkarly attended one in Sydney.
“To me it is a resistance against Australia Day,” says one rally participant, “It pushes nation-hood and nation-hood is linked to whiteness, whiteness is linked to violence and colonialism. They are still perpetuating that myth that Aboriginal people don’t belong in Australia.”
Several thousand Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are marching through the streets of Sydney to protest against the celebration of the country’s national holiday – Australia Day.
The rally weaves its way through Sydney’s city streets, in between massive skyscrapers. It’s not far from here, that in 1788 a British Admiral landed a fleet of ships and planted England’s flag, declaring the land part of the British Empire.
After 228 years of colonisation, violence and dispossession, many Indigenous Australians don’t think the date is anything to celebrate
Caine Carrol joined the protest with his family, one child sitting on his shoulders above the crowds.
“A lot of blood shed was on this land and I don’t think it is recognised, still today in the younger generations,” says Carrol, “That’s why I brought my boys along to show them a significance of what Australia Day really means, it is a national day of mourning not a national day of celebration… Their forefathers died fighting for this land and still today we are fighting for our freedom.”
As the rally moved along Sydney’s busy streets, many people out to celebrate the holiday stop to watch and take photos. Some are flying flags or wearing Australia-themed t-shirts.
But many non-Indigenous Australians also shunned the more traditional barbeques and beers and joined the rally.
Hannah is among them.
“I definitely think it is important for non-Indigenous Australians to come to these rallies,” she says, “In terms of the treatment they have had since white settlement I think it incumbent on all of us to show our support in any way we can.”
Indigenous Australians continue to face significant social and economic disadvantage in Australia. They are much more likely to face extreme poverty, unemployment, homelessness and imprisonment.
“Always was always will be Aboriginal land,” chant the crowd, “always was always will be Aboriginal land”.
The way in which the government celebrates Australia Day has also changed significantly in recent years. Many citizenship ceremonies, where migrants – increasingly from Asia – become Australians, are held on the day.
However Nakkiah Lui - who is an actress and playwright of Gamilaroi heritage – says that the more multicultural Australia being represented today doesn’t change how Aboriginal people feel about the date.
“I think with the ever changing nature of Australia Day and what we have seen it morph into, with this idea of a New Australia of a multicultural Australia, I still think that erases Aboriginality,” she says, “The date is always going to be contentious and really big decisions need to be made in order for Australia to change.”
So as another January 26 comes and goes, the debate over how Australia celebrates its colonial history and modern identity comes up again and then disappears – until next year.
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