As Australia commemorated its national day on the 26th of January, thousands of people protested over the choice of date and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights. Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians gathered in Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Perth and other towns and cities in protests over the day, which also saw activists in London hang a banner reading “Abolish Australia Day” from Westminster bridge.
January 26th commemorates the date of the arrival of the first fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788 and the beginning of British colonisation in Australia. For many of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have been estimated to have inhabited the Australian landmass for more than 65,000 years, January 26th represents ‘Invasion Day‘ or ‘Survival Day’ and has led to a large ‘change the date’ campaign.
“Today marks the start of colonisation and the start of genocide and you name it,” said Jayden Riley, 17, as reported by Reuters. “It is not about refusing to celebrate being Australian. This day represents more than just being Australian to our people.”
“Australia Day had become a politicised flashpoint for discussion about how we should celebrate the past, and recognising what the day means for indigenous people Professor Kate Darian-Smith, from the University of Tasmania, told the BBC in 2018.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been opposed to any change of the date, suggesting in 2018 that instead discussions may occur for a new national day to recognise Australia’s Indigenous history. Previous Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull, Kevin Rudd and John Howard have also opposed discussion over a move of the date. Any changes to the date would require joint agreement by the federal and state governments.
January 26th has been celebrated in the colonies that would become Australia since the beginning of British colonisation, with all states having a public holiday on the Monday and long weekend nearest the 26th by 1935. The national public holiday has been held on the date of the 26th of January nationwide since 1994.
A 2018 survey by The Australia Institute found that 49% of those surveyed agreed that Australia Day should not be on a day that is offensive to Indigenous Australians, while 36% disagreed, though 37% of those polled felt the current date is offensive.