ActivePaper Archive ‘Ordinary Australians are out here with us' - The Age, 1/27/2021

‘Ordinary Australians are out here with us'


Indigenous activist Uncle Gary Foley went to his first Invasion Day rally 51 years ago.

Yesterday, as thousands of people gathered in drizzling rain in Melbourne’s CBD, Uncle Gary told the sea of black, red and yellow of one significant shift he had noticed in more than half a century of campaigning.

‘‘What has changed, standing out here looking out at all of you mob, is that large numbers of ordinary Australians are out here with us,’’ he said.

In the 1970s, a groundswell of protesters fought to raise awareness about the disproportionate number of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and dying in custody.

This year, another influx of supporters came out in spite of lingering coronavirus concerns to rally, wearing face masks, in support of Aboriginal Australians.

‘‘We are again in an epoch, in a moment, of our history where we have the same change again,’’ Uncle Gary said. ‘‘The Black Lives Matter movement is not going away here or overseas.’’

As coronavirus marshalls organised protesters into groups of 100 for the march down Bourke Street, in line with government gathering limits, the annual protest called for justice and truth.

‘‘Some of us have been doing this every year, calling for greater awareness and understanding of Australia’s history. That’s what this day really is all about,’’ Uncle Foley said.

Eighteen ‘‘legal observers’’ equipped with video cameras monitored the event in case of conflict between police and protesters. Police also filmed the protest from the rooftop of The Imperial Hotel.

Federal Greens senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, told the crowd January 26 was Invasion Day and not a date to celebrate.

‘‘We still have guns pointed to our heads,’’ she said. ‘‘We still have a boot on our necks ... Ten-year-old babies are being locked up in this country.

‘‘Is that something to celebrate? Why are people having barbecues and shrimp on the barbie and celebrating the death and destruction of the oldest continuing living culture in the world?’’

Senator Thorpe described a ‘‘slimy pandemic’’ of racism in Australia that needed to be eradicated. ‘‘It’s killing us,’’ she said.

Following a minute of silence, two women with white ochre on their foreheads sang a mourning song while the crowd beat their chests in time with the clapping sticks.

Indigenous rappers A.B. Original’s song January 26 blared along Bourke Street as a group with a sign stating ‘‘Captain Cook brought the first pandemic’’ passed.

Other signs read ‘‘White Australia has a black history’’ and ‘‘No pride in genocide’’.

Invasion Day rallies attracted strong crowds nationwide.

More than 3000 attended a sitting in Sydney after days of police opposition to a march and about 5000 took to Brisbane’s streets shortly before Labor government minister Mark Bailey used Twitter to call for the Australia Day date to be changed.

Indigenous woman Kanisha Bamblett, 20, who attended Melbourne’s protest, said that she was excited to be there with her entire family, who came every year.

‘‘We bring our whole family every year, just to show each generation. In our culture and community that’s a very, very big thing for us. We carry onto the next generation, the history we were taught ... we make sure to pass it on.’’

Clint Fisher, Kerry Robinson and their seven-year-old son Rufus Fisher drove into the city for the Invasion Day rally from Bellbrae, nears Bell Beach.

‘‘I think it’s important as a white Australian to be a good ally,’’ said Mr Fisher. ‘‘To educate the kids on how important it is to be proud of our black history.’’

Police broke up a scuffle between protesters and a man in a shirt bearing the name of a far-right political group early in the afternoon. He arrived in a black Proud Boys T-shirt, draped in an Australian flag emblazoned with ‘‘Come on Aussies’’.

The man blew up an Australianthemed beach ball and stood for several minutes until a protester approached and kicked the ball out of his hand, sparking a face-off until police stepped in. It’s unclear if the man was planning to attend a separate ‘‘People’s Australia Day Parade’’, protesting the cancellation of Melbourne’s Australia Day parade. The event, hosted by the Melbourne Freedom Rally group which was associated with last year’s anti-lockdown protests, attracted about 100 people.

Victoria Police praised the behaviour of Invasion Day protesters, saying two men were detained for a short time but there were no arrests.

With Carolyn Webb, Ashleigh McMillan