Protesters brand Australia national holiday 'Invasion Day'
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has tabled a referendum to add Indigenous people to the nation's constitution, but he ruled out any plans to change Australia Day.
Australians have turned out to protest against the country’s national holiday, branding the day as "Invasion Day" as they demand recognition of harm against the Indigenous population.
"Let us all recognize the unique privilege that we have to share this continent with the world's oldest continuous culture," Australian Prime Minster Anthony Albanese said of the holiday at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the 235th anniversary.
Australia Day marks the day that a British fleet first landed on the continent and proclaimed sovereignty over the land. In Sydney, the capital of New South Wales, a large crowd gathered to proclaim the day "Invasion Day" instead – the day when the British took the land from the Aboriginal peoples.
Protesters carried Aboriginal flags, and an Indigenous smoking ceremony took place.
Another protest in South Australia’s Adelaide drew around 2,000 attendees, according to the Australian Broadcasting Company.
While Albanese raised a flag for Australia in the nation’s capital of Canberra, Deniliquin Aboriginal leader Laura Hand-Ross of the Wamba Wamba and Mutthi Mutthi peoples lowered the people’s flag to half-mast to recognize that "for many Aboriginal people across the country, January 26 is a day of mourning," The Guardian reported.
"I would hazard a guess that in five years’ time, I probably will start calling it Survival Day," she said, adding that she has always referred to the holiday as "Invasion Day." "But for me, it symbolizes significant changes for all of our people across Australia and particularly in New South Wales, of the absolute annihilation of almost all of our people."
An annual poll found that nearly one-third of Australians believe that the day should be officially rebranded as "Invasion Day."
In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, executive director of the Center for Independent Studies in Australia Tom Switzer urged his fellow countrymen to "annoy the woke left" and "celebrate Australia Day."
Switzer acknowledged that "only a lunatic would be proud" of the various land thefts and indigenous exploitations that occurred under the British Empire, but he also highlighted the "great common achievements" of the British past, which he saw under threat from Australians who teach the youth to "feel shame about their nation’s British heritage."
"The defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 come to mind, but so does the export of the rule of law and parliamentary systems to nations around the world," Switzer wrote.
"Never mind that if the British hadn’t colonized Australia, another nation would have done so: the French or Dutch perhaps, or even the Japanese," he continued. "Never mind, too, that Australia has in the ensuing 235 years established itself as one of the world’s leading nations, embracing humane values such as the rule of law, liberty and democracy."
"National and state governments have striven to include and support indigenous people and to ensure they are equal under the law in every respect," he noted. "No one would pretend that the past treatment of indigenous people was acceptable by today’s standards. But those days are gone, and history can’t be undone."
Despite the significant unhappiness with the current holiday, Albanese said that there is no plan for change, though he noted that it was a "difficult day" for the Indigenous peoples.
Albanese’s Labor Party has also planned a referendum that will recognize Indigenous people in the nation’s constitution and establish a group called the Voice to consult on any decisions that might affect Aboriginal lives.
"It is a great country," Albanese said of the referendum. "Australia will be even better when we recognize our First Nations people in our constitution."
Some companies have tried to acknowledge the discontentment, with telecom company Telstra Corp LTD offering its employees the day off.
"For many First Nations peoples, Australia Day ... marks a turning point that saw lives lost, culture devalued, and connections between people and places destroyed," Telstra chief executive officer Vicki Brady wrote on LinkedIn.
Reuters contributed to this report.