Melbourne, Australia – Thousands of Australians have staged protest marches across the country demanding that the date of the Australia Day national holiday be changed from January 26, a date that marks the establishment of the first British penal colony there and which has been renamed Invasion Day by Indigenous Australians.
For many Aboriginal Australians, who trace their lineage on the land back between 40,000 and 60,000 years, it is the anniversary of the beginning of colonialism and their brutal subjugation.
Tens of thousands of people – many wearing the black, yellow and red of the Aboriginal flag – gathered in Melbourne, The Age newspaper reported, while thousands more took to the streets of Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth.
“I’m here to commemorate all the Aboriginal people who were murdered during the first stage of settlement,” protester Neville Scarlett told The Age.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he did not support changing the date of Australia Day, which is celebrated as a public holiday, with festivities ranging from fireworks over Sydney Harbour and citizenship events, to ancient Aboriginal ceremonies.
“Everyone is entitled to a point of view, but I think most Australians accept January 26 as Australia Day,” Turnbull told reporters in the national capital, Canberra.
Australia’s 700,000 or so indigenous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people still struggle with the consequences of colonisation and are near to the bottom of the country’s 23 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.