Day 148: Australia Day… Invasion Day

It was a very hot morning for the start of Australia Day events in Sydney.

But it has another name too… Invasion Day.

I wrote about some of the issues in yesterday’s blog so if you haven’t had a chance to read that, I’d suggest having a look as it provides some of the context to today’s.

There is a protest against Australia Day in many Australian cities and Sydney is no exception. A volunteer told me that last year’s event was attended by around 8,000.

I’d put today’s attendance anywhere between 10,000 and 15,000. It was held in a small corner of Hyde Park and people started to arrived from 9.30am ready for the speakers at 11am.

While I was wandering around taking photos I met Mariella who runs a coffee stand for the homeless. She told me she takes her set up, several nights a week, to the Martin Place ‘Dining Room’ to serve tea and coffee before the food trucks arrive.

She doesn’t charge for drinks but all donations help to buy supplies – including cakes and biscuits.

The Martin Place location isn’t a designated shelter and doesn’t have accommodation which is why she calls it the Dining Room. She invited me to go along but I won’t be in Sydney to do so.

When the rally started the speakers spoke about many issues: deaths in custody (Aboriginal people are over-represented in the justice system – more likely to be incarcerated for crimes that white people wouldn’t be and more likely to die in custody), climate change and the rights of Indigenous People.

I wondered if the catastrophic bushfires had drawn more people to attend the rally.

There was some discrepancy in the messages of the speakers – some want to change the date of Australia Day whilst others want to abolish altogether. It doesn’t undermine the overall message and demand for equality.

Before you read on… some of the speakers told heartbreaking stories and some of the crowd were moved to tears.

The crowd were spilling out of the allocated area for the rally.

Ownership of the land and black deaths in custody and the climate crisis were all linked by the first and fiery speaker declaring: “Who owns this land? This is not a change the date protest. Give it back.

“We are losing loved ones to a system that is corrupt. The government has failed Indigenous and non Indigenous people.

Listening to the speakers

“Corporate interests take priority over humanity and nature. Every living thing is at risk.”

The next speaker was Tane Chatfield’s mum, Nioka. His family have been campaigning for an investigation into his death in custody for three years. His death was declared suicide without an investigation

“We found our boy naked in the morgue wearing only hospital socks.”

She talked about the lack of investigation and she spoke heartbreakingly about the impact of his death on the family. His son often disappears at night and they find him sleeping next to Tane’s grave.

Death by suicide was declared without witnesses without investigation, declared in three hours.

When his mother went to the morgue they’d cut off Tane’s rats tail – his hair which he had been growing since he was 13. For Aboriginal people this is something that should have been returned to be given to his son.

Nioka, her voice breaking, said: “I don’t want any other family to go through what we have gone through. I feel guilty for not having previously supported campaigns. Black deaths in custody.”

She concluded with a challenge to the crowd: “They raped our mothers. They’re raping our land, they’re selling our water.

“Think about your lives, get yourself a cause.

“Why am I not treated the same as other mothers? It’s because I have black skin.

“Take back equality. Stop sitting behind fences.”

Several people around me were crying.

More on Tane’s story is here.

The next speakers highlighted environmental issues.

The Darling River system is drying out – something that was thought to be impossible.

The speaker from a community affected was furious: “Australia’s third biggest river is now dead.

“People are drinking unacceptable water. Where are our rights to water? Where are our rights to clean drinking water?

“The country towns are being closed down. People don’t want to leave their traditional lands. We have to become the protectors of the earth and the environment.”

Fracking was the topic for the next speaker who said: “It is participating in destroying our country. The McArthur River is polluted.”

“Fracking is polluting the water and the land – the land where our grandfathers lived for 40,000 years. Our stories are connected to the land, to the river, to the water.

“What about your children? This is their future? Stop the fracking.

“Our grandparents knew how to look after the land. The government doesn’t understand and they need to be educated. You educated us in English, now come and listen to us.

“The government is not listening to Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal. We need to unite and stand together. We show the political leaders the true way.”

The speeches lasted an hour and then the crowd formed a parade to march through Sydney. There must have been 10-15,000 people there.

Panoramic of the length of Elizabeth Street filled with marchers.

The final speaker closed with: “We need to stand together and unite every day, not just on one day of the year.”

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