SYDNEY, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Thousands of Australians marked the country’s National Day celebrations on Thursday with rallies in support of Indigenous people, many of which mark the anniversary of the day a British fleet sailed into port of Sydney as “the day of the invasion”.
In Sydney, the capital of New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state – social media showed large crowds gathering at an ‘Invasion Day’ rally in the central business district , where some people carried Aboriginal flags and an indigenous smoking ceremony took place.
Similar protests took place in other Australian state capitals, including Adelaide, South Australia, where around 2,000 people attended, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Speaking at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in Australia’s capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to the country’s indigenous people, who have occupied the land for at least 65,000 years.
“Let us 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 date of the holiday, he said.
An annual poll by market research firm Roy Morgan released this week showed nearly two-thirds of Australians say January 26 should be considered ‘Australia Day’, largely unchanged from a year ago. The others think it should be “invasion day”.
Amid the debate, some companies have embraced flexibility regarding vacation compliance. Australia’s largest telecommunications company, Telstra Corp Ltd (TLS.AX)this year gave its staff the option of working on January 26 and taking another day off instead.
“For many First Nations people, Australia Day… marks a turning point that has seen lives lost, a culture devalued and connections between people and places destroyed,” wrote Vicki Brady, Telstra’s chief executive. , on LinkedIn.
Many of Australia’s estimated 880,000 Indigenous people out of a population of 25 million lag behind others on economic and social indicators in what the government calls “entrenched inequality“.
This year’s holiday comes as the centre-left Albanese Labor Party government plans a referendum on recognition of indigenous peoples in the constitution and demands consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives.
The government plans to introduce legislation in March to organize the referendum later this year, as Indigenous voice becomes a key federal policy issue.
The constitution, which came into effect in January 1901 and cannot be changed without a referendum, makes no reference to the country’s indigenous peoples.
One of those present at the Sydney protest, Abi George, said it was not a happy day for all Australians, especially Indigenous people.
“No one has the right to celebrate genocide,” she said.
Another protester, Vivian Macjohn, said the National Day rally was a show of support for Indigenous people.
“I think it’s important that we show up and grieve with them and stand in solidarity,” she said.
Reporting by Sam McKeith and Cordelia Hsu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Raju Gopalakrishnan
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