Protests, citizenship festivities mark Australia Day
Published: Jan 26, 2022 07:14 PM
Protesters take part in an

Protesters take part in an "Invasion Day" demonstration on Australia Day in central Sydney on January 26, 2022. Thousands of protesters marched across the country over the rights of Indigenous people, while others celebrated the anniversary of British colonization.Photo: AFP

 Thousands rallied against the mistreatment of Indigenous people across Australia on Wednesday as citizenship ceremonies took place to mark the country's national day intended to celebrate the birth of the modern Australia.

The January 26 public holiday marks the date the British fleet sailed into Sydney Harbor in 1788 to start a penal colony, viewing the land as unoccupied despite encountering settlements.

But for many Indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage on the continent back 50,000 years, it is "Invasion Day."

Many protesters at rallies across cities dressed in black to mourn the day, with some carrying the Aboriginal flag and "change the date" signs. 

Some protests were organized online amidst concerns of surging COVID-19 cases.

A monument depicting Captain James Cook, who arrived in the Pacific 252 years ago triggering British colonization of the region, was doused in red paint overnight in Melbourne.

Speaking at the national flag-raising and citizenship ceremony in Australia's capital, Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison honored the traditional custodians of the country. 

"We recognize Indigenous people's right across our land from the Torres Strait Islander people in the north, to the people in Tasmania, to the people across the Nullarbor in Perth and the Larrakia people in the Top End," Morrison said. 

While the Australia Day remains contentious, this week's poll by the market research company Roy Morgan showed nearly two-thirds of Australians say that January 26 should be considered "Australia Day." The rest say it should be "Invasion Day." Australia's 700,000 or so Indigenous people track near the bottom of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator. Living often in remote communities, they also have been at greater risk from COVID-19. 

Most of the 200 or so Aboriginal communities spread across Western Australia are closed to tourists and travelers.

Australia on Wednesday recorded at least 74 deaths from the virus, one of its highest number of deaths in a day, as the highly-infectious Omicron variant tore through the country.