Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following article contains names and descriptions of people who have died.
Major cities in Australia saw huge turnouts on January 26 for the annual Invasion Day protests. January 26, officially celebrated as “Australia Day”, marks the anniversary of the British colonisation of Australia and the genocide of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that followed.
Demonstrations are held on this date every year to protest the establishment’s erasure of this history, and to highlight its lasting impacts. Australian companies have profited massively from stolen land, while Aboriginal people still face systematic racism, poverty and criminalisation.
Socialist Action members were present at the Melbourne rally organised by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance. It was attended by an angry, youthful crowd of tens of thousands of people. For many it was their first time ever going to a protest.
Starting at Parliament House on Spring Street, the rally swelled in numbers as it marched down Bourke and Swanston Street before finishing on the intersection outside Flinders Street Station. Chants of “no pride in genocide” and “no justice, no peace” received enthusiastic support from some onlookers.
This year there was a strong focus on stopping police violence and Aboriginal deaths in custody. A minute’s silence was held at the beginning of the rally for Aboriginal people who have died at the hands of police, with special mention given to Veronica Nelson, the first Aboriginal person to die in custody in 2020.
Relatives of Kumanjayi Walker and Tanya Day told of their struggles to obtain justice from an unaccountable, institutionally racist police force. Since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, over 400 First Nations people have been killed in police custody.
Other speakers touched on a wide range of issues facing First Nations people. The ongoing struggle for genuine land rights, the impact of the bushfires and climate change, and the forced removal of children from Aboriginal families were among the issues raised.
Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews was singled out more than once for his insincere conduct around Aboriginal issues. While the Andrews government talks up an official treaty with Indigenous people in Victoria, it has engaged in a years-long project to destroy ancient trees sacred to the Djab Wurrung people as part of a highway expansion near Ararat. This is just one example of how the capitalist establishment will betray any promises, negotiations or agreements when it suits them.
Multiple speakers made calls to “pay the rent” as reparations for the lasting damage caused by 250 years of colonial occupation. Socialist Action agrees that this is long overdue.
Big business should be made to pay for a program of social spending to transform the living conditions of First Nations people. This should include high-quality healthcare, education and housing, as well as land and cultural rights that have long been denied. This should be administered by Indigenous people themselves as part of a drive for genuine self-determination.
The final speech by Gary Foley gave attendees a lesson in the history of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy and the land rights movement of the 1970s. He estimated that the crowd at Invasion Day in 2020 was perhaps the largest he had ever seen.
Socialist Action agrees with Foley’s closing comments, which emphasised the need for solidarity:
“If you want to change the world, it’s important to get together with others and be organised, because you can’t do it by yourself.”
By Jeremy Trott