Invasion Day rallies mark nation's holiday

Rebecca Gredley and Daniel McCullochAAP
People attended rallies across Australia, while a big crowd in Canberra marched to Parliament House.
Camera IconPeople attended rallies across Australia, while a big crowd in Canberra marched to Parliament House.

Crowds brimming with Aboriginal flags have hit the streets of Australia's capital cities for Invasion Day rallies.

The annual debate over the date of Australia Day has culminated on Tuesday as parts of the nation paused to celebrate the national public holiday, while others called for events to be moved out of respect for Indigenous Australians.

Five people were arrested in Sydney out of a crowd of about 3000 people, who had congregated in small groups in the Domain to protest in a socially distanced and masked fashion.

Attendees turned out in force despite warnings from NSW Police Minister David Elliott that they would face fines and even imprisonment for breaching COVID-19 rules.

Conservative lobby group Advance Australia paid for the letters "Aus Day" to be written in the sky above Sydney to counter the Invasion Day rally.

Australia Day in the city began at dawn with the Sydney Opera House sails lit with Indigenous art, with the Aboriginal flag later raised alongside the Australian flag on the Harbour Bridge.

At the protest in Melbourne about 5000 people separated into groups of 100 to abide by coronavirus restrictions.

Victorian senator Lidia Thorpe addressed the rally, telling the crowd Indigenous people need a treaty.

"No more bulls*** symbolic gestures," she said.

"No more change the date, no more Uluru Statement, no more Constitutional recognition, no more 'Survival Day'. This is Invasion Day and we need a treaty."

The city's annual Australia Day parade was called off because of crowd limits imposed for health measures.

Scores of people attended rallies in Brisbane, Hobart and Perth, while a huge crowd in Canberra marched from the Aboriginal Tent Embassy to Parliament House to call on Australia Day to be moved.

Nearby, Prime Minister Scott Morrison delivered a keynote address at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, attended by the governor-general and other dignitaries.

Mr Morrison argues Australia Day should be on January 26 as it marks the date the nation changed forever.

"There is no escaping or cancelling that fact, for better or worse," he said.

Mr Morrison said January 26, the day Captain Arthur Phillip raised the Union Jack and proclaimed British sovereignty in 1788, marked the beginning of modern Australia.

"Our stories since that day have been of sorrow and of joy, of loss and redemption, of failure and of success," he said.

"We are now a nation of more than 25 million stories. All important, all unique, and all to be respected."

British colonisation led to widespread massacres, oppression and dispossession of Indigenous people from land they had inhabited for more than 60,000 years.

New Australian of the Year Grace Tame voiced her support to moving Australia Day, but said Indigenous voices should be listened to on the issue.

A C-130 Hercules transport plane pierced the clouds and an enormous flag was suspended from an Army helicopter, before 25 new citizens made their pledge to Australia.

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