More than just changing the date

USyd students were among thousands gathered in Redfern to call for an end to the celebration of Australia.

A "No Pride in Genocide" sign held aloft. Photo credit: Connor Parrisis

As the majority of Australia revelled in the usual patriotic festivities, the annual Invasion Day protests played out with peaceful gusto across the country. Amidst increasing mainstream acknowledgement of the campaign to #ChangeTheDate, speakers and activists emphasised that any celebration of Australia would be inappropriate, regardless of the date it takes place.

The Redfern protest, which was organised by Fighting In Resistance Equality (FIRE), was well attended, with crowd estimates ranging from 10,000 to 20,000. Whatever the figure, the turn out surpassed the already impressive numbers observed in 2017, and is certainly a large change from even a few years ago when the protests had minimal support. The attendance rate is consistent with a broader pattern of comparatively large turnouts during years that fall on decadal anniversaries of the 1788 invasion. It was likely the largest such protests in Sydney since 2008.

USyd students formed a significant part of these numbers, and included representatives from SRC collectives, political parties, and other groups. In addition, representatives from the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU), and The Greens added further colour to the canopy.

Ken Canning of FIRE proceeded over the rally at The Block, which featured Indigenous and Non-Indigenous activists devoted to the cause all year round. Speakers focussed on ongoing instances of racism, to remind attendees that their struggle is more than just a memory. Representatives from Grandmothers Against Removal (GMAR) noted the similarities between the Stolen Generations and the ever-increasing rates at which Indigenous children are taken from their parents. Adrian Burragubba – a leader of the Adani protests in Queensland – decried the illegitimacy of government land sales to destructive mining organisations.

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Ken Canning of FIRE addresses the crowd at The Block. Photo credit: Connor Parrisis.

In keeping with this approach, the family of Eric Whittaker shared the tragic details of his death in custody late last year, a reminder that issues with the criminal justice system have not abated despite Royal Commissions. A Palestinian activist expressed anti-colonial solidarity, while David Shoebridge MLC and Jenny Leong MP acknowledged the failure of the parliamentary institution they belong to. Shoebridge particularly decried the doubling of child removal rates since Kevin Rudd’s ‘sorry’ speech.

Representatives from Indigenous communities in Borroloola and Bowraville rounded out the proceedings, which were ultimately concluded by Gavin Stanbrook. Stranbrook was especially emphatic, telling the crowd that “if they change the date, we’ll protest again” as part of a wider condemnation of efforts to merely change the date.

The subsequent march snaked up to Broadway and City Road, terminating at the Yabun Festival in Victoria Park. Protestors were peaceful and dignified, despite the presence of a sizely, militarised police force.

An additional Long March for Justice Through Treaty was held at Redfern Oval, while an event was also held at the Metro Aboriginal Land Council to commemorate the 80th Anniversary of 1938 Day of Mourning Commemorative. Invasion Day protests were held all across Australia. In Melbourne, there were an estimated 40,000-60,000 attendees, while record numbers were claimed in Hobart and Brisbane.

While the rally was certainly an encouraging one, the continuing challenge for attendees will be to support Indigenous people for more than one day a year, students included.

This post was updated on Thursday, 1 February, to correct a naming error.