- The Guardian
- Issue #1947
Around the country, Communist Party of Australia (CPA) branches attended Invasion Day rallies and marches in a solidarity effort with First Nations people.
In Sydney, members from Central, Wollongong, Maritime, Inner West, and Beloyannis branch joined in solidarity in an Invasion Day that was done differently from other years. Typically held in Hyde Park, the speak-out was held in the Domain as a reclamation of that land. It also served as a space that enabled the event to be COVID-19 compliant. Also, unlike other years, there was no march as organisers had brokered a deal with police that allowed the protest to occur without the risk of getting fined.
Led by First Nations activist group Fighting In Solidarity Towards Treaties (FISTT), this Invasion Day marked eighty-three years since the first Day of Mourning protest. Attendance numbers vary. Police estimates were 2,000-3,000. However, organisers have stated that over 8,000 COVID-19 registration forms were filled suggesting the attendance was much higher.
Many First Nations leaders spoke about the significance of the day.
Lizzie Jarrett, a member of David Dungay Jr.’s family and Invasion Day organiser spoke about the genocide colonisation has caused: “We’ve gone from being 100 per cent of this country to less than three per cent in only 233 years. If that’s not telling you you live under a genocidal regime, I’m not sure what we’re learning about Australia.
Lynda-June Coe, one of the Invasion Day organisers and a Wiradjuri and Torres Strait Islander woman, stated that “your government, your police force, your health system, every single system in this country is built on racism, and the one thing this country is still proud of is that history.”
Despite clear messaging from Indigenous elders who organised the event that no march was to occur, according to Honi Soit, “an offshoot of about 200 people, including members of the Australian Communist Party (ACP), appeared to march through Hyde Park, breaking the deal that organisers had made with police.”
Members of the CPA Sydney contingent were deeply disappointed that participants from other parties did not respect these wishes of the Indigenous leadership.
In Brisbane (Meanjin) over 5,000 people attended, according to local media sources present on the day, which included representatives of the CPA’s Brisbane Branch. The crowd marched with placards and flags along with heartfelt vocal chants supporting the Yuggera and Turrbal people. Crowd numbers on the day were similar to last year’s march, which was estimated to be the largest crowd to date at an Invasion Day rally in Brisbane.
Coming together in solidarity on Elizabeth Street, first heard from a number of speakers and activists, then marched across the Victoria Bridge, where some of the crowd performed a spontaneous dance circle at the corner of Grey and Melbourne Streets.
The crowd then moved forward through to South Bank.
Protesters carried banners and flags that included texts that said “Don’t Celebrate Invasion,” “Solidarity with First Nations People,” and “Always Was, Always Will Be,” among many other supportive messages. Chants of “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!” could be heard clearly by the bystanders as the assembly moved past.
The crowd ended their march at Musgrave Park, where a giant Aboriginal flag was spread on the ground and refreshments provided.
The rally this year was attended by Leeanne Enoch, Labor member for Algester, Quandamooka woman, and the first elected indigenous member of the Queensland Parliament, who was quoted as expressing that “people continued to argue back and forth, ignoring the ever-present weight of our past” and later tweeting that “Change the date or don’t change the date, I’m not sure either way would resolve the perpetual argument.”
Organiser Wayne Wharton gave an earnest speech calling for justice on behalf of a young indigenous boy who died in a bus last year while under the care of daycare staff. “The boy deserves more,” he said, “and it’s up to us to ensure he deserves better,” while calling on the crowd to respond in the coming weeks, as one of the workers charged over the incident was cleared of manslaughter. “We don’t deserve the irresponsible, racist governments we are getting at the moment,” he said.
In Melbourne, thousands braved the cold, wind, and rain to attend the Invasion Day rally at Victorian Parliament House. Speakers included Uncle Bill Nicholson of Wurundjeri Country, Stan Dryden, Mandy Nicholson, Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, the legendary Gary Foley, Arika Waulu Onus founder of Wuurn of Kanak, Tish King of SEED, writer Celeste Liddle, and musical performances from Indigenous artists.
The speeches drew on recurring themes such as the return of stolen land, the Black Lives Matter Movement, the promotion of treaty that achieves material goals, the destruction of sovereign Indigenous land, the history of Day of Mourning protests, and, at times, the denunciation of “Change the Date” and the Uluru Statement. A petition was also distributed, on behalf of fifteen families, calling on the federal government to take action on Indigenous Deaths in Custody, and for justice for their own relatives. The overarching message was a demand for real structural change in the lives of Indigenous Australians.
Most of the Melbourne Branch attended the rally as marshals, with a small contingent participating as marchers. Marshals maintained compliance with the COVID Safety plan, and helped to deter clashes with Victoria Police and Australian nationalists. A strong emphasis was placed on conducting the march in a COVID-safe and respectful manner. This years’ marshals went above and beyond their regular duty, as they had to keep marchers in blocks of no more than 100 people to ensure compliance with Victoria’s social distancing restrictions.
CPA General-Secretary Andrew Irving has been marshalling Invasion Day for the past few years and he said that, even though there were not enough people for the job, he was impressed with this year’s marshalling, with an extra 200 people turning up to help on the day. Marchers did an excellent job of adhering to the COVID safety plan and the rally proceeded largely without incident. Congratulations to both the marshals and the organisers, Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, who made this year’s Invasion Day possible despite COVID-19 restrictions.
In Perth, Invasion Day was organised by Noongar woman Corina Abraham-Howard. Over 4000 people, young and old and from all cultures, were in attendance to hear the speeches and occasional song. Abraham-Howard has worked in the justice and health systems, and spoke to the fact that not only are Aboriginal people overly represented in these institutions but they often don’t fare well by the time they are released. She echoed the sentiments of many Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people at the rally when she said there is nothing to celebrate on this day: “our lands were stolen; our children were stolen and our men incarcerated. It was also time also to bring back respect – respect for our elders, for our land and our culture.”
Dr Hannah McGlade, Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University and Member of UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues, said that it was “Time to tell the truth about structural violence being suffered by Australia’s Indigenous people,” adding that there were no Aboriginal Justice Committees set up in Australia to look at issues such as domestic violence, Aboriginal women’s health, and the effect this has on Aboriginal women being able to have the care and custody of their babies when they are born.
Aunty Madeline was one of the next speakers who had come a long way to attend the rally, from the western Kimberly, was critical of the Native Title Land system which she said was broken and what was really needed was, “to have proper land rights.” Aunty Madeline, like many people in the Kimberley, is worried about fracking on their land and the quality of their water. Aboriginal people said Aunty Madeline, should have the right to make decisions about what happens on their country. To this end it was important that Aboriginal people remain united when they are dealing with corporations and governments lest these groups play one party off against the other. Aboriginal communities had to listen to and respect their elders or soon there would be no country to come back to – for if you look after the land, the land will look after you.
After the speakers, the 4000 plus people in the rally decided to march through the city and on to Langley Park to take their message of justice and reconciliation to the people.