<p>Content warning: racism, First Nations deaths in custody. Thousands of protestors gathered in Naarm (Melbourne) on Tuesday to call for a Treaty and to abolish so-called ‘Australia Day’. The rally was mirrored in other capital cities, with tens of thousands showing up in Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide and Hobart, as well as dozens of […]</p>
Content warning: racism, First Nations deaths in custody.
Thousands of protestors gathered in Naarm (Melbourne) on Tuesday to call for a Treaty and to abolish so-called ‘Australia Day’.
The rally was mirrored in other capital cities, with tens of thousands showing up in Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Darwin, Adelaide and Hobart, as well as dozens of smaller protests in cities and towns across Australia.
The rally began outside Parliament House, where protestors observed a minute’s silence before being welcomed to Country by the Djirri Djirri Wurundjeri women’s dance group.
Protesters were masked and separated into groups of 100 in order to comply with limits on outdoor gatherings as they marched towards Flinders Street Station.
Wurundjeri Elder Bill Nicholson echoed the calls of the organisers, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), to abide by the COVID-safe rules.
“If you want to feel right in participating in such an important day as today, respect what the organisers are telling us, to keep us all healthy and safe,” he said.
Nicholson criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison for his recent comments about the day, including his statement during a press conference last week that January 26 1788 “wasn’t a particularly flash day for the people on those vessels either.”
“I wonder if Scotty Morrison up in Canberra actually knows this one,” Nicholson told the crowd before reading an excerpt from James Cook’s journal: “In what other light can [Aboriginal people] then at first look upon us but as invaders of their country.”
“Cook saw it from the day he got here. This country is still blinded to that. If it comes from the Prime Minister, you can imagine how it filters down through the rest of society,” Nicholson said.
Among the organisers, artists and activists who spoke at the rally was Victorian Greens Senator, Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman Lidia Thorpe.
“There is a far-right rot in this country’s parliament. They are stoking the fire of far-right racism in this country. That is the other pandemic: the slimy, secret pandemic of racism in this country that we need to eradicate, because it’s killing us,” Thorpe said.
“The 26th of January, a war was declared on the First People of this land. That war has not ended. We still have guns pointed to our heads. We still have a boot on our necks. Our babies are still being stolen. Our babies are still being incarcerated and thrown in prisons. Ten year old babies are being locked up in this country. Is that something to celebrate?”
Gumbainggir activist and academic Gary Foley noted that the first national campaign on police brutality against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people occurred nearly 90 years ago in 1934. Yet, First Nations people are facing the same racist policing today.
“The greatest indication of our status in Australian society are the incarceration rates of our people. Aboriginal people are more jailed than any other people on Earth,” Foley said.
Protestors were encouraged to sign a petition by the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services calling on Scott Morrison to meet with the families of 15 First Nations people who have died in police custody.
The families hope the meeting—scheduled for the 30th anniversary of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody—will spark genuine action to prevent further deaths, including the long-overdue implementation of many of the Royal Commission’s 339 recommendations.
Since 1991, more than 440 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody.
Gunai and Gunditjmara woman and co-founder of WAR Meriki Onus wrote in The Age last week that the systemic racism faced by First Nations people cannot be addressed by simply changing the date of Australia’s national day.
“This is why, in recent years, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance led a movement away from ‘Change The Date’ and instead promoted ‘Abolish Australia Day’.”
“We aren’t here for a one-word change in the anthem, a meaningless reform in the constitution, or moving a celebration of Invasion to another day. We are here for justice. We are here for Indigenous rights,” Onus said.
Outside Flinders Street Station, Lidia Thorpe echoed Onus’ calls for “no more bullshit symbolic gestures.”
“We need the end to the war in this country, and the only way we can do that is through a peace Treaty. Not the one we see in Victoria, not the one we see in Queensland, not the one we see in the Northern Territory, because they talk treaty and still lock our people up, they still kill our people, they still desecrate our land and our water,” Thorpe said.
“A Treaty means peace, a Treaty means equality, and a Treaty means justice.”