As 10,000 people streamed into Djabargalli (Sydney Domain) for the Invasion Day rally on January 26, it became very clear the NSW government had overplayed its hand — again.
Solidarity with First Nations peoples and taking a stand against the racism of Australia Day was high on their agenda.
The protest organisers — Justice for David Dungay, Fighting In Solidarity Towards Treaties (FISTT), Indigenous Social Justice Association, Gamilaraay Next Generation, National Union of Students Anti-Racist Department and the Australian Student Environment Network — had repeatedly asked to meet police to discuss the COVID-19 safety and other plans. They were ignored.
As the crowd poured into Djabargalli on an extremely hot day, the police changed tack after having earlier declared the protest was “unauthorised”. The police and government media barrage in the lead-up to the protest would have kept many others away.
Shanaya Donovan gave the welcome to country in Gadigal language. She translated her message as: “Hello my friends and family, I love you all so much. Thank you for strengthening me and strengthening all your spirits because we are out here fighting for justice for our people!”
Wiradjuri elder Uncle Dave Bell acknowledged the Dharug, Dharawal, Darginung, Guringai, Gundungurra, Dharawal, Bundgalung and Gomeroi nations as part of his acknowledgment to country.
Bell then called out the names of First Nations people who have died at the hands of the racist incarceration system, including TJ Hickey, David Dungay, Tane Chatfield, Patrick Fisher and Nathan Reynolds.
Aunty Shirley Lomas, from the Gamilaroi and Waka Waka nations, explained why Invasion Day was a day of protest not celebration.
Lynda-June Coe, Wiradjuri and Badu Island woman from the Erambie mission in Cowra, said: “We are protesting because we have lived under an undeclared colonial war since 1770, when the continent was proclaimed the possession of Britain, under the lie of terra nullius.” She thanked people for defying the police minister’s threats.
Paul Francis-Silva, the nephew of David Dungay Jr who died in Long Bay prison in 2015, said the fight for justice was for “all the families who have suffered deaths in custody”. He said the NSW Inquiry into Black deaths in custody is due to hand down its findings in March and that the family also wants SafeWork NSW to investigate the deaths in custody.
“Our family will continue to campaign,” he said adding that the fight was not about changing the date “but to have [Australia Day] abolished” altogether.
Leetona Dungay, David Dungay’s mother, thanked everyone for their support and said: “We won’t stop fighting. I want [the sort of] justice where the life of an Aboriginal man is worth something”.
Gomeroi woman Gwenda Stanley spoke about the need for “clan treaty” and invited people to protest in Canberra in 2022, the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. She announced the formation of a First Nations party in NSW.
Gamilaraay activist Ian Brown said: “The system isn’t broken; it is doing what it is designed to do.”
Bundjalung woman Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts declared: “We will achieve liberation one day — no justice, no peace, no racist police.”
Tameeka Tighe, a young Gomeroi, Dunghutti and Biripi woman, demanded the government abolish Australia Day.
Muruwari and Budjiti man Bruce Shillingsworth talked about the death of the Murray Darling River and urged people to continue organising for change.
Gumbaynggirr Dunghutti Bundjalung woman Elizabeth Jarrett, the protest MC, called on everyone to play their part in the struggle to “decolonise”.
The organisers encouraged First Nations people to have their say on the open mike, and, movingly, several did take the opportunity to talk about the ongoing inpact of colonialism.
Other speakers included First Nations drag queen Tyra Bankstown; Maritime Union of Australia Deputy Secretary Paul Keating; Seth Dias from the Australian Student Environment Network; Raul Bassi from the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge.
Performance duo Barkaa and Dobby closed the rally with a rendition of “I Can’t Breathe”.
This was the second major protest for justice for First Nations’ peoples where police had tried but failed to stop. As if to take out their frustration, after the rally had ended the police arrested four people in Hyde Park North.
[Justice for TJ Hickey is organising a march on February 14 at 10.30am at TJ Hickey Park, corner George Street and Phillip Street, Waterloo on the 17th anniversary of his murder. Sign the petition demanding a full independent inquiry into the death of TJ Hickey.]