The tide has turned. January 26 is becoming established as Invasion Day. Tens of thousands marched in Melbourne, 15,000 in Sydney and up to 10,000 in Brisbane to support Indigenous rights.
“Let’s have a deadly day!”, Wurundjeri man Bill Nicholson said, ending his welcome to country and kicking off the rally in Melbourne.
“I haven’t seen a crowd like this since the 1970s”, said Gary Foley.
The turnout was a long time coming.
Creative placards read, “Not happy Jan26”, “Australia Day equals Invasion Day”, “Change the date, we still won’t celebrate”. The most popular matched the most popular chant: “No pride in genocide!”
Aboriginal storyteller Larry Walsh began with a soft voice but raised it at racial profiling. “For over 250 years it’s been happening to the first peoples of this country. Two hundred and fifty years later, it’s happening to the African community.”
“It is time to say enough of your profiling crap. We want Justice!”, he roared.
Tony Birch spoke of failed attempts by Australian governments to wipe out the Indigenous population. “The absolute defiance of that stupidity and that violence is on evidence here today”, he said.
Two years ago, the Invasion Day protest had to push through police lines to march to Flinders Street Station. This year, the march moved smoothly and surely. When it reached Flinders Street, a vast billboard bearing the words “raw power” greeted us. The reference was to tennis champion Roger Federer, but the message was apt.
The other event was the official Australia Day parade. Just before 11am, bored children were jamming their heads between the temporary railings erected along Swanston Street, waiting for the parade to begin.
There was plenty of room and no need for their parents to get them there early. Past Federation Square, only handfuls of people lined the march route. At first, the only entertainment was a grown woman dressed as a cockatoo, squawking up and down the street on a bicycle.
Two men in safari suits were preparing for their march. A mutton-chopped gentleman in a spiked helmet accompanied them. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in Rhodesia.
The left of the movement demanded to scrap Australia Day altogether. Meriki Onus, co-founder of Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance, receiving the loudest applause when she said, “This country does not deserve a day of celebration”.
There was plenty of sympathy in the crowd.
The “change the date” debate has proven to be a dividing line in the revived culture wars. Victorian opposition leader Matthew Guy has promised, if elected, to sack any council refusing to hold citizenship ceremonies on 26 January.
But the right, as with marriage equality, looks to be on the losing side of this one.
“I feel like maybe the time is coming”, 59-year-old Judy told Red Flag. “I would warn [Matthew Guy] that he probably would be getting more than he bargained for if he tried to do it. A political move like that is more likely to backfire and cause people to dig in and fight harder.”