The controversy over "Australia Day" January 26
By Louisa Wright et al. (*) - 26. January 2019
Protests across Australia against 'Invasion Day' holiday
Events to mark the birth of modern Australia in 1788 are being countered by large rallies by indigenous communities. They're demanding that the Australia Day public holiday be changed so it doesn't celebrate colonialism.
Rallies have been held in several Australian cities calling for the country's national day to be abolished because it marks the anniversary of the British arrival at Sydney Cove in 1788.
Many indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage on the continent back 50,000 years, regard the Australia Day holiday as "Invasion Day."
Tens of thousands of protesters lined several streets in Sydney on Saturday, while thousands more gathered in Melbourne, Canberra and other Australian cities, saying the day should not be celebrated as it marks the theft and dispossession of indigenous people.
"Today marks the start of colonization and the start of genocide and you name it," said 17-year-old Jayden Riley, who joined the march in Sydney, wearing the colors of the Aboriginal flag.
Some campaigners called for the holiday to be changed to January 1, the day in 1901 when Australia became a nation in its own right, albeit with the British monarch as its head of state.
ECOTERRA Intl. spokesperson Silvia Knudsen from Cairns stated: "The colonial celebrations are an absolute anachronism and a slap into the faces of Aboriginal People as well as an insult to modern, non-indigeneous Australians, who respect and honour the First Nations of Oceania!"
'Day of mourning'
But others, such as Lareesa, an Aboriginal woman who protested in Melbourne with her family, told Australian public broadcaster ABC the national day should be abolished altogether.
"No matter what day you change it to, it'll still be a day of oppression and mourning for us, so I think deleting it altogether is the way to go," she said.
January 26 is also the day that thousands of people across the country become Australian citizens.
The biggest ceremony was held in the city of Parramatta in Sydney, with 1,450 people.
New citizen James Golestani, 52, told Australian broadcaster SBS that he came from Iran and is of Persian ethnicity. "I feel really, really on top of the world. All of my dreams came true today," Golestani said.
Deekeala Glew, from the Bundjalung indigenous community, told ABC that December 17 would be more preferable: On this day in 1965, all indigenous people were given the right to vote.
A number of alternative dates have been put forward as replacements for January 26. One is May 27, the date in 1967 that Australia held a referendum to include Indigenous Australians in the census. March 12 is another, on this date in 1913, Australia's capital city Canberra was officially named. A popular one is also May 8, due to it sounding similar to one of Australia's most used words — "mate."
In Melbourne, the protest was interrupted at one point by far-right protesters, until they were moved on by police.
Australia's 700,000 or so indigenous people still track near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.
For most people, Australia Day is a time to celebrate the country's unity through national ceremonies, multicultural music, dancing from many parts of the world, barbecues, sport, family cricket, beaches and a few beers.
But opposition to the holiday is growing, with the number of protesters on Saturday expected to cross the 100,000 mark nationwide.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison's government, which faces a general election due in May, opposes any change to the holiday.
Some lawmakers even want to enshrine the date in legislation so that a future government cannot change it.
Even so, several councils, who normally swear in thousands of migrants as Australian citizens on Australia Day, said they didn't want to hold the ceremonies on January 26 due to local Aboriginal sensitivities.
Indigenous Peoples' rights activist Clover Johnston who works through fPcN (friends of Peoples close to Nature) with Aboriginal groups in the Australian outback: "Like in Canada, the Anglo-American colonizers still try to use the people of non-aboriginal heritage to permeate and squash indigeneous culture, language and rights, while celebrated changes recognizing the abroriginal peoples' rights are only superficial and regularly just PR scams."
And with a far look into the distance he adds: "It is here in DownUnder no longer as bad as it is for our brothers and sisters across the sea in West Papua, who are slaughtered at the hands of the Indonesian military on behalf of the Anglo-American mining interests, but we are still far off from having received our rights back or even achieved equity."
(*) with parts from DW/mm/rc (DPA, Reuters)
To support the Aboriginal Peoples of Oceania contact: