MELBOURNE: Thousands of people rallied on Wednesday against the mistreatment of Indigenous people across Australia as citizenship ceremonies took place to mark the country’s National Day to celebrate the birth of modern Australia.
The January 26 public holiday marks the date the British fleet sailed into Sydney Harbor in 1788 to establish a penal colony, deeming the land unoccupied despite encountering settlements.
But for many Indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage to the continent 50,000 years ago, it’s ‘invasion day’.
Many protesters at rallies across towns dressed in black to mourn the day, some carrying the Aboriginal flag and “change the date” signs. Some protests have been held online amid concerns over rising COVID-19 cases.
A monument depicting Captain James Cook, who arrived in the Pacific 252 years ago, sparking British settlement of the region, was sprayed with red paint overnight in Melbourne.
Speaking at the National Flag Raising and Citizenship Ceremony in Australia’s capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison paid tribute to the country’s traditional guardians.
“We recognize indigenous peoples throughout our territory, from the Torres Strait Islanders in the north, to the people of Tasmania, to the people of Nullarbor in Perth and to the people of Larrakia in the Top End,” Morrison said.
“Like the country itself, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia are diverse, they are unique and they connect us through time.”
While Australian Day remains controversial, this week’s poll by market research firm Roy Morgan showed nearly two-thirds of Australians say January 26 should be considered ‘Australia Day’. The others say it should be “invasion day”.
Australia’s approximately 700,000 Indigenous people rank near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost all economic and social indicators. Often living in remote communities, they have also been more exposed to COVID.
Most of the approximately 200 Aboriginal communities spread across Western Australia are closed to tourists and travellers.
The leading Aboriginal health body in Central Australia, a vast outback region of the Northern Territory centered on the town of Alice Springs, called on Tuesday for a “complete lockdown” of the area to prevent the spread of the disease. coronavirus.
The Northern Territory, home to around 247,000 people, recorded 492 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the total number of active cases to 3,208, with 84 people in hospital.
Australia recorded at least 87 deaths from the virus on Wednesday, the highest number of COVID deaths in a day since the pandemic began, as the highly infectious variant of Omicron tore the country apart.
(Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Himani Sarkar)