Thousands gather for ‘Invasion Day’ protests on Australia Day holiday

SYDNEY, Jan. 26 (Reuters) – Thousands of Australians celebrated the country’s National Day celebrations on Thursday with demonstrations in support of Indigenous people, many of whom describe the anniversary of the day a British fleet entered Sydney harbor as ” Invasion Day”.

In Sydney, the capital of New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state – social media showed a large crowd gathered at an “Invasion Day” rally in the central business district, with some people carrying Aboriginal flags and an Indigenous smoking ceremony took place.

Similar protests took place in other Australian state capitals, including Adelaide in South Australia, where about 2,000 people attended, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

At a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in Australia’s capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese honored the country’s indigenous people, who have occupied the land for at least 65,000 years.

“Let’s all recognize the unique privilege we have of sharing this continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture,” Albanese said.

Although it was a “difficult day” for Indigenous Australians, there were no plans to change the holiday, he said.

An annual poll by market research firm Roy Morgan released this week found that nearly two-thirds of Australians believe January 26 should be regarded as “Australia Day”, largely unchanged from a year ago. The rest think it should be “Invasion Day”.

Amid the debate, some companies have adopted flexibility around observance of the holiday. Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra Corp Ltd (TLS.AX), this year gave its staff the option to work on January 26 and take another day off instead.

“For many First Nations peoples, Australia Day … marks a watershed moment where lives were lost, culture was devalued and connections between people and places destroyed,” Telstra CEO Vicki Brady wrote on LinkedIn.

Many of Australia’s approximately 880,000 Indigenous people out of a population of 25 million lag behind others on economic and social indicators in what the government calls “striking disparity”.

This year’s holiday comes as Albania’s centre-left Labor government is planning a referendum on recognizing indigenous peoples in the constitution and requiring consultation with them on decisions affecting their lives.

The government plans to introduce legislation in March to set up the referendum that will take place later this year, as the Indigenous vote is a major federal political issue.

The constitution, which came into force in January 1901 and cannot be changed without a referendum, makes no reference to the country’s indigenous people.

One of the people at the Sydney protest, Abi George, said it was not a happy day for all Australians, especially the Indigenous people.

“No one has the right to celebrate genocide,” she said.

Another protester, Vivian Macjohn, said the rally against the national holiday was a show of support for indigenous people.

“I think it’s important that we show up and grieve and show solidarity with them,” she said.

Reporting by Sam McKeith and Cordelia Hsu; Edited by Kenneth Maxwell and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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