Protesters in major cities are calling for a change in the national holiday in honor of the country’s indigenous people.
Police made arrests in Australia on Tuesday as thousands of people opposed public health concerns and protested the mistreatment of indigenous peoples on the day the British First Fleet arrived in 1788.
For many indigenous Australians who trace their ancestry back tens of thousands of years on the continent, the holiday of Australia Day is known as Invasion Day, which symbolizes the destruction of their cultures by European settlers.
In Sydney, indigenous groups called for protests to call for a change to the national day, despite state health officials refusing to make an exception to social distancing rules to accommodate crowds of more than 500 people.
TV footage showed protesters gathering in small groups early Tuesday to comply with the limit values.
Everyone at the # InvasionDay2021 rally in Sydney raises a fist in solidarity. The crowd looks a little different this year but still a big show. @ABCIndigenous pic.twitter.com/lqqJLpzex0
– Isabella Higgins (@isabellahiggins) January 25, 2021
Police warned protesters about fines and jail sentences for violating public health regulations to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Pictures posted by news organizations and on social media showed police pulling several protesters away from the march in Sydney.
In Melbourne, the rally organizers said protesters would be divided into groups of 100 people 10 meters apart in order to comply with social distancing rules.
However, images posted on social media showed a larger group of masked protesters gathering at one of the city’s main intersections. They put their fists in the air and sang, “One voice”.
Thousands of people, many exposed, also showed up in Hobart, the capital of the southern island of Tasmania.
As thousands of people flocked to beaches and picnic areas across the country to celebrate the national day, many official events have been canceled due to coronavirus restrictions [Loren Elliott/Reuters]As thousands of people flocked to beaches and picnic areas across the country to celebrate the national day, many official events have been canceled due to coronavirus restrictions.
Australia has fared better than most other developed countries in the pandemic, with just under 28,800 cases and 909 deaths, mostly in the state of Victoria. Victoria recorded its 20th day in a row without a local broadcast on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia Day represents how far the country has come since the first fleet arrived.
“There is no escaping or undoing that fact,” said Morrison at a ceremony in Canberra. “For better or worse, it was the moment that the journey to our modern nation began.”
Anthony Albanese, leader of the Australian Labor Party, said the country must recognize that its history “doesn’t go back to 1788. It goes back more than 65,000 years.
“Australia Day means different things to different people. For me it is a chance to recognize the past, recognize the present and hope for the future. “
Grace Tame, who was named Australian of the Year on Monday, also expressed her support for changing the date of the national holiday.
“It doesn’t cost us anything as a nation to actually change this date. And it would mean a lot to this community and our national community. I think that’s important, “she said in an interview with The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald.