Tens of thousands of protesters have turned out for Invasion Day and Survival Day rallies around the nation calling for change, with major events held in every capital city.
Demonstrators in Melbourne descended on state parliament on Friday morning before marching to Flinders Street Station and staging a sit in, shutting down city roads and tram lines over the four hour protest.
Cheers echoed as a “eulogy” for Australia Day was read out and a speaker celebrated the toppling of a statue of Captain Cook, which was cut off at the feet and graffitied in St Kilda on Thursday.
The rally featured many younger community leaders who said they had nothing to celebrate on January 26.
“It not only marks the colonisation of this country, but it marks the ongoing trauma that our people still endure today from the removal of our black babies to our mob being the most incarcerated in the country,” Ky-Ya Nicholson Ward said.
Several people spoke on the need to urgently reverse rates of death in custody – including Apryl Day, the daughter of Tanya Day, whose death in a police cell and recommendations out of a coronal inquest sparked changes to public drunkenness laws.
Demonstrators also descended on Brisbane’s Queens Gardens, Darwin’s Civic Park and Adelaide’s Victoria Square to protest the national day and treatment of Australia’s first peoples.
Sydney’s major demonstration at Belmore Park had family members of Aboriginal people who have died in custody calling for an end to systemic discrimination.
Paul Silva, the nephew of David Dungay Jr whose dying words were “I can’t breathe”, said it was important for white Australia to understand “why blackfellas want this day gone”.
He cited the long history of state-sanctioned massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people since 1788.
“We don’t need a day that inflicts so much trauma on us,” he told the crowd.
“We want justice and accountability for the people who have died in custody.”
A daughter of one of the founders of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy said Australia needed to move the dial forward on Aboriginal rights and called for land to be returned to traditional owners and custodians.
“We’re not talking about mourning no more. We’re talking about sovereignty,” Nioka Coe-Craigie, a Gomeroi and Wiradjuri woman, said.
Organisers further called for government to end housing and healthcare discrimination and finally implement every recommendation from the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody 33 years ago.
A notable sight for this year’s demonstrations was wide support for Palestine, with calls for a Gaza ceasefire made and Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network president Nasser Mashni addressing the Melbourne crowd.
Attendance at Hobart’s rally was expected to surpass 2023 numbers as organisers demanded the national day celebrations cease or move to a new date.
“January 26th has become the one day of the year that completely divides the nation,” Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre campaign manager Nala Mansell said.
13YARN 13 92 76
Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905