The enormous — some estimate 60,000-strong — Invasion Day rally in Melbourne was a fitting rejoinder to the conservative campaign pushed by the mainstream media and politicians in the lead-up to January 26.
The right-wing Institute of Public Affairs released a poll on January 24 that, unsurprisingly, found just 11% of those surveyed want the date changed.
It said it was “abundantly clear that everyday Australians want to celebrate our great country” — a theme the establishment media continued to campaign on even though the Invasion Day rally totally dwarfed the official Australia Day ceremony.
The egg is still sticking to their faces.
In other capital cities too, the numbers attending Invasion Day protests were significantly higher than the previous year.
In Sydney, the coalition organising the biggest march, FIRE (Fighting In Resistance Equally) drew a predominantly young crowd, reflecting the growing discussion about learning from, rather than ignoring, history.
Despite this, most establishment media ignored the huge size of the protests, and stuck to their reactionary line.
Conservative columnist Rita Panahi even declared war on artists for helping promote the actual history of European colonisation. Her piece in the January 26 Sun Herald scolded celebrities for having “learnt nothing from their US brethren about the fatuity of playing politics”. She also bemoaned the fact that most folks have given up on getting news from MSM saying: “That those in the artistic community lean further Left than the average member of the socialist alliance [sic] is nothing new, but now they can share their harebrained views of the world via social media.”
This came as the Coalition launched its election document on school education values on January 24, which highlighted the “values” topics it considers should no longer be curriculum priorities: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures, Asia and Australia’s engagement with Asia and sustainability.
So it was no big surprise that the establishment media seized on one line by Melbourne rally organiser Tarneen Onus-Williams.
“We have not organised this [rally] to change the date,” she told the crowd, referring to the debate over whether the call to change the date of Australia Day is adequate. “We have organised this to abolish Australia Day because fuck Australia ... I hope it fucking burns to the ground.”
WAR — Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance — the Melbourne rally organisers, say the campaign to change the date is a “feel good” gesture, which would do nothing to address the fundamental issues Aboriginal people face today.
The attack from the conservatives was predictable, but the push back to support Onus-Williams and the other young Indigenous leaders who helped make the biggest rallies for Indigenous rights since the 1970s and 1980s has also been swift.
The hashtag #IStandwithTarneen went viral on social media and gained support from former Labor MP Nova Peris, musician AB Original and Marcia Langton. Onus-Williams said she stood by her comments — which were a metaphor — and which were taken out of context. She told the Age she did not have to apologise as she was referring to the political system that continues to ignore and oppress Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal feminist activist Celeste Liddle spoke out strongly on Twitter, saying she resented the idea that “an Aboriginal woman is required to play respectability politics and to not confront, to not rock the boat and to not be angry in the face of colonisation and sexism”.
Of course, the conservative media sought out the views of conservative Aboriginal people, such as former Labor President Warren Mundine, who described Onus-Williams’ comments as shameful and demanded that the organisation she works for, the Koorie Youth Council, be defunded.
They also quoted Alice Springs town councillor Jacinta Price, who supports former Labor leader Mark Latham’s campaign to “save” Australia Day to quote.
But community elders in Alice Springs have spoken out against this. Ampe-kenhe Ahelhe (Children’s Ground) organisation director Leonie Palmer said on Facebook: “Australia Day means nothing to me. I see people waving that Australian flag and I think ‘What about the Indigenous people?’…
“January 26 is a day that began the destruction of our people along the coastline. We should leave it as a day for Indigenous people to reflect on their pain, their trauma and to do smoking and healing. It should be Itterentye alhwarrpeke (thinking, sorry) day.”
Felicity Hayes, a Traditional Owner of Alice Springs and elder from Children’s Ground, said: “Our families are recognised in both Aboriginal and Western law. Until now we have been ashamed to show people where and how we live. But it is time that Australia saw our reality and how we are treated on our own lands.
“It is 2018. How can we still be living like this in 2018? It is time to change what is happening, not just for us but for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Can we please start with housing and water and power?”
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have been protesting against January 26 for more than 80 years and it is clear the tide is turning. The mobilisations on January 26 are a stark reminder to the Coalition and Labor that Aboriginal Australia will not rest until they get justice. In this they have the support of many thousands of non-Aboriginal Australians who marched to mourn Invasion Day.
Governments would do well to heed the message.