Large crowds attended the 2019 Invasion Day protests in Melbourne. Picture: James Ross
Large crowds attended the 2019 Invasion Day protests in Melbourne. Picture: James Ross

What’s missed from Australia Day protests

THE numbers of how many people attended Invasion Day rallies on Saturday may vary, but there is one key point being missed in the Australia Day date debate.

Rallies took place in all capital cities across the country, with organisers in Sydney saying 50,000 attended despite police saying it was less than that.

In Melbourne estimates put the figure somewhere between 40,000 and 80,000, police saying they couldn't comment on the number.

Invasion Day protests have come to be about reverence, remembrance and grief for thousands of Australians who say it's time to seek change.

But different issues were highlighted beyond changing the date on Australia Day.

Organisers say they want the national day of celebration on January 26 abolished until a number of issues have been addressed.

Mother Leetona Dungay spoke at the Sydney rally, saying she was fighting for justice over the death in custody of her son. In March it will be three years since David Dungay Jr died in Long Bay Jail.

The 26-year-old died after being forcibly restrained and heavily sedated by prison officers for refusing to stop eating biscuits. He told officers 12 times he couldn't breathe, before sedatives rendered him unconscious and he later died.

"They're going to reopen (the case) and start bleeding our hearts again," she said. "But we're going to be strong as family.

"Is it going to be lies, or is it going to be the truth?" she asked the crowd.

Invasion Day protesters gathered in large numbers in Melbourne, marching on Federation Square. Picture: James Ross
Invasion Day protesters gathered in large numbers in Melbourne, marching on Federation Square. Picture: James Ross

Ms Dungay spoke of a "blue code" that she felt was impenetrable and above prosecution. From deep within the crowd, a lone voice screamed out, "Murderers!"

Later, Paul Silva, the nephew of Dungay Jr spoke to the crowd. "Biscuits was never going to kill my uncle," he said, explaining that his diabetic uncle was eating them to try and get his blood sugar up.

Speakers also spoke about incarceration rates of Aboriginal people. As of July last year, all children in detention in the Northern Territory were indigenous.

Paul Silva, a relative of David Dungay Jr, speaks at an Invasion Day Rally in Sydney. Picture: Joel Carrett
Paul Silva, a relative of David Dungay Jr, speaks at an Invasion Day Rally in Sydney. Picture: Joel Carrett

Also at the forefront was the issue of a "second stolen generation".

Greens MP David Shoebridge said new legislation introduced into parliament last year allowing adoption without parental consent unfairly targeted indigenous Australians.

Mr Shoebridge said since Kevin Rudd's apology speech in 2008, which offered a sorry to First Australians for the Stolen Generation, there had been a 400 per cent increase in indigenous children being taken from their families.

"The (Stolen generation) is a thing of today," Mr Shoebridge said.

"An Aboriginal family is more than 10 times more likely to see their child, their grandkid, taken from them, and this government now wants to permanently remove them with changes to forced adoptions. And those laws didn't happen in 1788.

"The laws on forced adoptions happened down there in the NSW parliament while I was in it in 2018."

"Why don't we pass a law that says that all first nations peoples in jails in NSW for nonviolent offences will be released and returned to their community?" Mr Shoebridge asked.

Police presence was heavy at the Sydney rally, with crowds of regular police and riot officers lining the rally as it snaked its way through the city.

The crowd chanted jeers at the officers, "Too many coppers, not enough justice".

In Melbourne police had to escort away far-right nationalists who disrupted the protest in Federation Square.

Protesters sent strong messages with their placards at the Sydney 2019 rally. Picture: Joel Carrett
Protesters sent strong messages with their placards at the Sydney 2019 rally. Picture: Joel Carrett

'BREAKING FREE OF COLONIAL THINKING'

While many at the march carried placards calling to change the date, organisers and speakers had official lines that went further, calling to "abolish the date" all together.

"Invasion Day always will be Invasion Day. Because of the lies of a colonial-minded government," said speaker and co-organiser Ken Canning.

"Here today we have people breaking free of that colonial mentality. But those in Canberra can't. They're trapped in it because they like the power."

"We're not about change the date. We want to abolish the date."

When asked to comment about the large Invasion Day protests, Prime Minister Scott Morrison deferred to comments about his convict ancestors, reflecting that the journey to Australia "was a pretty difficult day."

"They came not by choice and in some pretty difficult circumstances," the Prime Minister said.

He tweeted a video on Australia Day saying "we must come together on January 26" because on that day "Australia did change forever." Mr Morrison acknowledged Australia's indigenous past in his video, explaining that we have a shared future.

YOUNG AUSTRALIANS SEE HOPE IN OVERSEAS THINKING

 

Invasion Day rallies were well attended by young people and university students across capital cities. Photo: Tim Pascoe
Invasion Day rallies were well attended by young people and university students across capital cities. Photo: Tim Pascoe

"No one is free until we're all free," said Saba, a 24-year-old woman who attended the Sydney rally. She was loudly chanting with her female friends who were all in their early twenties.

"The statistics of Aboriginal incarceration, their health … it's one of the most fundamental things to address."

"Internationally there is conversation about this stuff, but Australia is super ignorant. It increases more and more. But nowhere like it is overseas.

"The dialogue around indigenous issues, general social issues.

"The dialogue around like indigenous issues. The more awareness that is raised, the more people inclined to participate."

As stats were read out about indigenous youth incarceration, she held her hands to her mouth and yelled loudly, "Shame!"

"We're not indigenous to this land," she said. "We're living on literally stolen land. We benefit from the continued subjugation of the indigenous people.

"Therefore it's quite literally the minimum we can do to pay tribute to first nations people, by rejecting the date of Australia Day and showing continued solidarity and support in whatever means we can."

"You learn to be consciously aware of what you celebrate and then you realise it's not a day of celebration at all," chimed in Gladys, 23, who was walking with Saba.

"Once you become conscious of the fact that this is a day where genocide (began), then that continuous genocide is still (affecting) indigenous people, that's why we choose to come out and show solidarity."

Supporters gather in Hyde Park to listen to speakers before the march began on Saturday. Picture: Tim Pascoe
Supporters gather in Hyde Park to listen to speakers before the march began on Saturday. Picture: Tim Pascoe
Invasion Day protesters holding a large flag as they march in Brisbane. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Invasion Day protesters holding a large flag as they march in Brisbane. Picture: Glenn Hunt
Young Australians explained that through a process of education they no longer felt comfortable seeing Australia Day as a day of celebration. Picture: NIKKI DAVIS-JONES
Young Australians explained that through a process of education they no longer felt comfortable seeing Australia Day as a day of celebration. Picture: NIKKI DAVIS-JONES

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