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Thousands protest to abolish ‘Australia Day’; violent arrests made

It marks 83 years since the first Day of Mourning protest.

Invasion Day Rally 2021 Photography by Aman Kapoor

More than 8,000 people attended an Invasion Day protest at Djarrbarrgalli (Sydney Domain) today.

The protest was led by First Nations activist group FISTT (Fighting In Solidarity Towards Treaties). Despite earlier police threats of fines and arrests, an agreement was made between organisers and police that no arrests would be made if it went ahead as a seated speak-out without a march.

“We’ve been threatened by police intimidation saying they will smash us if we take to the streets” said Gomeroi woman Gwenda Stanley. “Instead of allowing them to incite a riot we’ve advised everyone to disperse and stay safe.”

At the rally, around 85 COVID marshalls were stationed across the park and entrance points, requiring all attendees to sign in and wear a mask. Attendees were escorted by marshalls and police, and were directed to sit in groups of 500.

Wiradjuri and Torres Strait Islander woman Lynda-June Coe stated that, “your government, your police force, your health system, every single system in this country is built on racism, and the one thing this country is still proud of is that history.” 

“The White Australia policy wasn’t abolished. It was brought into white Australian culture. What have you got to be proud of, Australia, when your culture is built on white supremacy?”

Multiple speakers emphasised that sovereignty was never ceded and that Indigenous self-determination in the form of a political party was critical.

Gamilaraay Next Generation activist Ian Brown highlighted that today marks the 183rd commemoration of the Waterloo Creek Massacre, where police killed up to 50 Gomeroi people. “I stand here as a symbol of our defiance and a symbol of our strength. We’re still here.”

More than 8,000 people attended the rally. Photography by Aman Kapoor.

Kyah Patten, great granddaughter of Aboriginal activist Jack Patten who organised the first Day of Mourning protest, spoke to the death of her uncle Eddie Murray, whose death in custody was the first to be investigated by the Royal Commission. “They labelled it a suicide…He was murdered in his cell for being Black.”

Aunty Lizzie Jarrett spoke to the violent history of colonisation: “We’ve gone from being 100% of this country to less than 3% in only 233 years. If that’s not telling you you live under a genocidal regime I’m not sure what we’re learning about Australia.”

Dunghutti woman Aunty Leetona Dungay compared the death of George Floyd to her son, David Dungay Jr, who was asphyxiated by police officers after eating a packet of biscuits in his cell.

“David kept yelling out ‘I can’t breathe’ until he was dead…The biscuit wasn’t going to kill my son, the only danger that day was the actions from the white prison guards.”

Post-rally arrests

After the peaceful dispersal of the main Invasion Day rally, an offshoot of about 200 people, including members of the Australian Communist Party (ACP), appeared to march through Hyde Park, breaking the deal that organisers had made with police.

A police Chief Inspector arrested a protester from the contingent in Hyde Park who had told him to “fuck off.” He pinned the man to the ground while another was restrained in a chokehold after coming to the man’s defence. 

Four protestors were arrested. Two will be charged with COVID breaches, one with hindering police and another with assaulting a police officer. 

Seth Dias, an Invasion Day protest organiser, told Honi that the organisers “denounce the police for their heavy handed response.” He continued: “The police response to a few protestors informally marching following today’s rally is nothing short of abhorrent. We believe that all individuals are free to express themselves without the fear of police repression.”

An ACP spokesperson told Honi that “there was no intent to march after the rally,” and that “members of the ACP simply tried to deter them from being ‘kettled.’” Another ACP member told Honi that “there was a bunch of mixed messaging about what was happening after the rally, and then the cops were on us.”

An activist from the Indigenous Social Justice Association was seen arguing with a member of the ACP after learning of the march. The remainder of protesters dispersed soon afterwards.

Updated at 21:12

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