“This brings pride to our people. This is a turning of the tide!”, First Nation’s activist Ken Canning told the thousands on the streets for the Invasion Day march from Redfern to Chippendale on January 26.
Indeed, it was.
A 10,000-strong — overwhelmingly young — crowd were enthusiastically chanting, laughing, hugging and listening to impassioned speeches during the march. The march — the biggest Invasion Day march since the Bicentenary protest march of 1988 — was organised by FIRE (Fighting In Resistance Equally), a new coalition of First Nations activists and their allies.
“Australia is waking up to the big scam of ‘Australia Day’ — a celebration marking the mass murder of the Eora people in New South Wales,” Canning told the assembly in Redfern.
“Over two years, more than 70% of Eora people were killed off either by disease or direct warfare. This is not a day to celebrate!
“This was an invasion and it’s still going on today. Unless Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people stand up — like we are doing today — the colonial mentality will continue.”
In Brisbane, the protest from the city to Musgrave Park was a “huge success” Sam Watson told Green Left Weekly.
“There was more than 2500 people, large numbers of Indigenous people plus our white supporters and comrades.
“We were honouring the tradition of resistance that has been observed since the early days of the British invasion of our Sovereign land.
“At Musgrave Park, community elders and organisations came together to provide entertainment, feast with a variety of foods then, later in the day, there was a very sacred smoking ceremony to signify the beginning of a year of protest.
“During that smoking ceremony, a delegation of Maori people stepped forward and performed a traditional Haka.
“People were very moved: we welcomed the solidarity that has always existed between the Maori struggle and the Aboriginal struggle.
“Our message is that we have survived and we’re getting stronger.”
Nationwide, the protests were larger than previous years and took place in more towns than ever before.
In the northern NSW town of Moree, a Gamilaraay Survival Day was organised to remember ancestors who “died defending land and country”.
“Ngiyani winangay ganuuga” (We remember them) was the lead banner, a reference to the Myall Creek massacre, the first and only time white murderers have faced trial — and been convicted — for their massacre of 28 Aboriginal women and children in 1838.
The bloody Myall Creek massacre was only a small part of Australia’s colonial past. Such massacres were routine, a fact those defending Australia Day “celebrations” refuse to acknowledge.
This year marks a turning point. A new generation is standing up against Australia Day nationalism, in this case the myopia over Australia’s colonial history.
The sheer size of the Melbourne and Sydney protests — up to 50,000 and 10,000 respectively — took many by surprise. The Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth protests were also larger and more diverse than previous years.
The “One day in Fremantle” concert on January 28, a council #ChangetheDate initiative, drew a huge 15,000 people despite the vicious campaign against it by Rupert Murdoch’s West Australian.
What bought such a diverse and young crowd out on to the streets?
Most likely it was many things. The #ChangeTheDate debate; the increasing prominence of racist xenophobes such as Pauline Hanson and US President Donald Trump; and the real life impact on our lives of the massive wealth divide.
The mass protests on Invasion Day show the elites have lost some political ground, and it makes them more desperate.
In Sydney, the NSW Police seem to have been instructed to look for opportunities disrupt — they came armed with fire extinguishers — and they did.
The Tactical Response Unit crash-tackled a few people, including with their extinguishers (even though there was no fire), arrested and charged a young man and trampled a young woman so badly she remained in hospital for five days.
I witnessed the police brutality that day as they pinned a young man to the ground, kicked him while he was lying face down and then handcuffed him. All the while, a young woman lay unconscious on the road nearby.
You would not have gleaned any of this from Murdoch’s “alternative facts” Daily Telegraph which described protesters as fleas and published a couple of pages of people superimposed on what looked like a war zone. The online coverage showed the protest as it was — peaceful until the police moved in.
Truth-telling has always been a powerful tool and in today’s dystopian world, it is even more so.
The truth is that white Australia has a Black History, and that history must be recognised and understood if there is going to be any justice at all for Indigenous people, still suffering the trauma of 229 years of dispossession.
“In 2015, we only had 300 people marching with us,” Canning told the crowd. “Now, we have thousands. We’re seeing Australia wake up.
“You will see that from here on in, there will be a shift: they will move this day.
“What day will they choose? They should not choose any. I wouldn’t choose any day to celebrate genocide,” Canning said to huge applause.
There’s no pride in genocide.