Australia Day protests: Tens of thousands march against 'celebration of colonisation and genocide'

Prime minister Scott Morrison defends annual holiday and opposes any changes as protestors take to streets in cities across country

Lidia Kelly
Saturday 26 January 2019 12:20
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Tens of thousands protest against Australia Day 'celebration of colonisation and genocide'

Tens of thousands of people rallied across Australia to call for the abolition of the annual national celebration of 26 January as they argue the day represents colonisation and the genocide of indigenous people.

While Australia Day marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the British First Fleet at Botany Bay, many indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage on the continent back 50,000 years, regard it as “Invasion Day”.

“Today marks the start of colonisation and the start of genocide and you name it,” said Jayden Riley, 17, who was marching in Sydney on Saturday wearing a vest in the colours of the Aboriginal flag.

“It is not about refusing to celebrate being Australian. This day represents more than just being Australian to our people.

“My nan’s stolen generation, for example, she was taken from her family and brainwashed to be a Catholic – all that sort of stuff, you know.”

At a rally in Sydney that stretched along more than half a dozen of city blocks, about 5,000 protesters chanted, “Always was and always will be Aboriginal land” and “No pride in genocide”.

Protests attended by several thousand people took place in Melbourne, Canberra and other Australian cities.

Prime minister Scott Morrison’s government, which faces a federal election due in May, opposes any change to the holiday.

Attending official celebrations and a citizenship ceremony in Canberra, Mr Morrison said it was idealism and enlightenment, not cruelty and dispossession, that had prevailed in the country.

“These great ideas are the foundation of our modern Australia, and they have transformed us into this most recent chapter of our great story – the one we write together,” Mr Morrison told crowds in the capital.

Australia’s 700,000 or so indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.

“This country stops for a horse race, it stops for an AFL [Australian Football League] grand final, it stops for the Queen’s birthday and it stops for an Anzac [Day] service and we don’t have ever a time where this country stands still to reflect on first peoples of this country and the pain and suffering we’ve endured since colonisation,” Lidia Thorpe, an Aboriginal former member of parliament, was quoted as saying by ABC News.

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On Saturday, indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion said he was retiring from politics and would not stand in the federal election.

“I am grateful that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have welcomed me in every corner of this continent that I have visited, and worked with me in providing local and national solutions,” Mr Scullion said in a statement posted on his website.

Reuters

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