National protests mark Invasion Day

More than 500 rallied in Canberra on January 26. Photo: Aran Mylvaganam

"Today was the best Invasion Day protest that I have ever been to," Socialist Alliance councillor Sue Bolton told Green Left Weekly on January 26. "There was a real feeling of Aboriginal pride and resistance. The crowd was bigger today too."

In Melbourne, the protest began with a smoking ceremony near Parliament House followed by a rally on the parliament steps.

The rally then marched to the official "Australia Day" parade, moved the barricades and marched along the official parade route.

The police tried to stop the protesters - including blocking the way with a police car - but they were outnumbered by the crowd of 500 that quickly grew to more than 800 people.
The speakers at the rally exuded a spirit of pride and resistance and this was then reflected in the actions on the official parade route.

When they were part of the parade route, the protesters controlled the pace and the flavour of the march. There were regular stops for smoking ceremonies, speakers and to explain to the crowd what was happening.

"No pride in genocide," was one of the popular chants.

Activists report that there was a lot of sympathy and interest from those who had gathered for the official Australia Day event. Some jumped the barricade to join the protest.
Bolton told GLW that "when we got to Melbourne Town Hall, the official commentator for the Australia Day march attempted to keep on going as if we weren't there".

"However, when they realised that we weren't going anywhere, the officials were at a loss and didn't know what to do."

After a period of chanting, the protest proceeded to its scheduled end point at Birrarung Marr Park.

In Hobart, several hundred Aboriginal community members and their supporters gathered on the parliament house lawns to mark Invasion Day. One minute’s silence was observed while a wreath was slowly walked down two rows of those who gathered and placed on the steps to parliament house.

People were welcomed to country and reminded that the Aboriginal people do not recognise January 26 as Australia Day, that they do not celebrate this day, that their land was stolen, that they will never give up and they will never go away.

Aboriginal leader Michael Mansell spoke about how Australia is the only country that celebrates a day when a country was invaded. He asked how immigrants can feel part of a nation when the day marks the coming of one race displacing another - it is not a basis for unity, it is a basis for division. He said the day is "race based and based on a white Australia policy".

Tasmanian Greens leader Kim Booth told the crowd he “stands in solidarity with with the people here today". He called for the date to be changed, and said the Greens are committed to a formal treaty between the Tasmanian government and the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.

Human rights lawyer Greg Barnes said he is "appalled that the day excludes the Aboriginal community … until the day is changed we can never move forward".

In Canberra, more than 500 members of Aboriginal communities from across the country and their supporters marched to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy in front of Old Parliament House.

The embassy was also the site of the second meeting of the Indigenous National Freedom Summit, following its founding in Alice Springs in November last year.

Ngunnawal elder Aunty Agnes Shea addressed the marchers after they arrived at the tent embassy. "We've got to keep the fire burning and keep going along to make everyone listen to what we have to say in our country," she said.

Wiradjuri elder and spokeswoman Jenny Munro said the day was about the recognition of sovereignty through a united voice.

"We are trying to talk with one voice - the ones the Australian government is listening to are not the voices of our people."

Western Australian Aboriginal human rights campaigner Marian McKay, who had travelled by bus with more than 30 other activists from WA, voiced her concern about WA Premier Colin Barnett's announcement that the state government intended to close down more than 150 remote Aboriginal communities.

"We're angry because we're sick of the genocide. In WA we suffer the worst conditions of any community in the country, and we are seeking help to fight these attacks," she said.

Aboriginal Tent Embassy co-founder Michael Anderson condemned the ongoing oppression of Indigenous First Peoples, and called for unity in the struggle for Indigenous rights and sovereignty.

"The road to freedom means to come together and stay together as a people. We will then be able to provide some future for our children and the right to exist as an independent people in our country. They are bulldozing our communities. This is a day of mourning, not a day of celebration," he said.

The community representatives present gave notice that they would be back on February 9 with a list of demands for Indigenous rights and sovereignty.

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