MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Rallies against the mistreatment of indigenous people are expected across Australia on Wednesday (Jan 26) as citizenship ceremonies take place to mark the country’s national day intended to celebrate the birth of the modern Australia.
The Jan 26 public holiday marks the date the British fleet sailed into Sydney Harbour in 1788 to start a penal colony, viewing the land as unoccupied despite encountering settlements.
But for many indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage on the continent back 50,000 years, it is “Invasion Day”.
Speaking at the national flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in Australia’s capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison honoured the traditional custodians of the country.
“We recognise indigenous peoples right across our land from the Torres Strait Islander people in the north, to the people in Tasmania, to the people across the Nullarbor in Perth and the Larrakia people in the Top End,” Morrison said.
“Like the country itself, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are diverse, they’re unique and they connect us through time.”
Protests against the holiday are planned in Canberra, Sydney and many other Australian cities later in the day.
A monument depicting Captain James Cook, who arrived in the Pacific 252 years ago triggering British colonisation of the region, was doused in red paint overnight in Melbourne.
Australia’s 700,000 or so indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.
While Australia Day remains contentious, this week’s poll by the market research company Roy Morgan showed nearly two-thirds of Australians say that Jan 26 should be considered “Australia Day”, with a third saying it should be called “Invasion Day”.