Thousands of people gathered to protest Invasion Day on Australia Day

SYDNEY, Jan 26 (Reuters) – Thousands of Australians marked the country’s National Day celebrations on Thursday with rallies in support of indigenous people, many describing the anniversary of the day the British fleet entered Sydney Harbor as “Invasion Day”.

In Sydney, the capital of New South Wales – Australia’s most populous state – social media showed a large crowd gathered for an “Invasion Day” rally in the central business district, where some people carried Aboriginal flags and an Aboriginal smoking ceremony took place.

Similar protests were held in other capitals of Australian states, including South Australia’s Adelaide, where, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, around 2,000 people took part.

Speaking at a flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in the Australian capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese paid tribute to the nation’s indigenous people, who have occupied the land for at least 65,000 years.

“Let us all recognize the unique privilege of sharing this continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture,” Albanese said.

While it was a “difficult day” for Indigenous Australians, he had no plans to change the holiday date, he said.

Market research firm Roy Morgan’s annual survey released this week showed almost two-thirds of Australians say January 26 should be considered “Australia Day”, broadly unchanged from a year ago. The rest believe it should be “Invasion Day”.

Amid the debate, some companies have embraced flexibility in observing the holiday. This year, Australia’s largest telecommunications company Telstra Corp Ltd ( TLS.AX ) gave its employees the option to work on January 26 and take another day off instead.

“For many First Nations peoples, Australia Day marks a turning point where lives have been lost, culture has been devalued and connections between people and places have been destroyed,” Telstra chief executive Vicki Brady wrote on LinkedIn.

Many of Australia’s approximately 880,000 indigenous people out of a population of 25 million lag behind others in economic and social indicators in what the government calls “entrenched inequality”.

This year’s holiday comes as Albania’s centre-left Labor Party government plans a referendum on recognizing indigenous peoples in the constitution and requires them to be consulted on decisions that affect their lives.

The government plans to introduce legislation in March to hold a referendum later this year as the Aboriginal voice takes shape as a key federal policy issue.

The constitution, which came into force in January 1901 and cannot be changed without a referendum, makes no mention of the country’s original inhabitants.

One of the people at the protest in Sydney, Abi George, said it was not a happy day for all Australians, especially Indigenous people.

“No one has the right to celebrate genocide,” she said.

Another protester, Vivian Macjohn, said the rally against National Day was a show of support for Indigenous people.

“I think it’s important that we show up and mourn with them and stand in solidarity,” she said.

Reporting by Sam McKeith and Cordelia Hsu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Raju Gopalakrishnan

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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