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Divisive Australia Day marked by protests and citizenship celebrations

Protesters attend the "Abolish the Date" rally to demand that Australia Day, the country's national day, be changed, as the date marks the arrival of Britain's First Fleet in 1788 and subsequent colonisation of indigenous Australians, in Sydney, Australia, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Jill Gralow

Thousands of people rallied throughout Australia on Wednesday to protest the abuse of Indigenous people as citizenship ceremonies marked the country’s national day, which commemorates the founding of modern Australia.

The news: The public holiday on January 26 commemorates the day in 1788 when a British force sailed into Sydney Harbour to establish a penal colony, despite meeting settlements.

Protesters attend the “Abolish the Date” rally to demand that Australia Day, the country’s national day, be changed, as the date marks the arrival of Britain’s First Fleet in 1788 and subsequent colonisation of indigenous Australians, in Sydney, Australia, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Jill Gralow
  • It is, however, “Invasion Day” for many Indigenous Australians who can trace their ancestors back 50,000 years on the continent.
  • Many demonstrators wore black to commemorate the day, and some carried Aboriginal flags and “change the date” signs during rallies across the country. Concerns over the rising number of COVID-19 cases prompted some online demonstrations.
  • Overnight in Melbourne, a monument to Captain James Cook, who sailed in the Pacific 252 years ago and sparked British conquest of the region, was splashed in crimson paint.
  • Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to Australia’s traditional caretakers at a national flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in Canberra, Australia’s capital.

What Morrison said: “We recognise Indigenous peoples right across our land from the Torres Strait Islander people in the north, to the people in Tasmania, to the people across the Nullarbor in Perth and the Larrakia people in the Top End,” Morrison said.

  • “Like the country itself, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, they’re unique and they connect us through time.”
Rally speaker Elizabeth Jarrett addresses the crowd as she stands between Paul Silva and Hector Dungay at the “Abolish the Date” rally, held to demand that Australia Day, the country’s national day, be changed, as the date marks the arrival of Britain’s First Fleet in 1788 and subsequent colonisation of indigenous Australians, in Sydney, Australia, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Jill Gralow

Facts and figures: While the debate over Australian Day continues, a recent poll by market research firm Roy Morgan found that nearly two-thirds of Australians believe January 26 should be designated as ‘Australia Day’. The majority of people believe it should be ‘Invasion Day’.

  • In practically every economic and social measure, Australia’s 700,000 or more Indigenous people rank towards the bottom of the country’s 25 million citizens. They have also been at a higher risk of COVID due to their frequent residence in isolated communities.
  • The majority of Western Australia’s 200 or so Aboriginal settlements remain closed to visitors and travellers.

In addition: Central Australia’s primary Aboriginal health organisation, based in Alice Springs, a huge desert region in the Northern Territory, called for a “total lockdown” of the region on Tuesday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

  • On Wednesday, 492 additional cases were reported in the Northern Territory, bringing the total number of active cases to 3,208, with 84 people in hospitals.
  • As the extremely infectious Omicron variety tore through Australia on Wednesday, at least 87 people died from the virus, the highest number of COVID deaths in a single day since the outbreak began.
Protesters take part in a “silent march” during the “Abolish the Date” rally to demand that Australia Day, the country’s national day, be changed, as the date marks the arrival of Britain’s First Fleet in 1788 and subsequent colonisation of indigenous Australians, in Sydney, Australia, January 26, 2022. REUTERS/Jill Gralow
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