Protesters in major cities are calling for the national holiday to be changed to honor the country’s indigenous peoples.
Police made arrests in Australia on Tuesday as thousands defied public health concerns and protested the mistreatment of indigenous peoples on the day the British First Fleet arrived in 1788.
For many Indigenous Australians, who trace their lineage to the continent tens of thousands of years ago, Australia Day is known as Invasion Day symbolizing the destruction of their cultures by settlers. Europeans.
In Sydney, indigenous groups have called for protests to demand a change in the national holiday, although state health officials have refused to waive social distancing rules to allow crowds of more than 500 people.
TV footage showed protesters gathering early Tuesday in small groups to comply with the limits.
– Isabella Higgins (@isabellahiggins) 25 January 2021
Police have warned protesters could face fines and jail time for violating public health orders aimed at limiting the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Images posted by news organizations as well as on social media showed police driving several protesters away from the march in Sydney.
In Melbourne, rally organizers said protesters would be divided into groups of 100 people spaced 10 meters (30 feet) apart to comply with social distancing rules.
However, images posted on social media showed a larger group of masked protesters gathered at one of the city’s main intersections. They raised their fists in the air and chanted “One Voice”.
Thousands of people, most of them unmasked, also showed up in Hobart, the capital of the southern island of Tasmania.
As thousands of people flocked to beaches and picnic spots across the country to celebrate the National Day, many official events have been canceled due to coronavirus restrictions.
Australia has weathered the pandemic better than most other developed economies, with just under 28,800 cases and 909 deaths, mostly in the state of Victoria. Victoria recorded her 20th consecutive day on Tuesday without local transmission.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia Day represents how far the country has come since the arrival of the First Fleet.
“There is no escaping or reversing this fact,” Morrison said at a ceremony in Canberra. “For better or for worse, that was when the journey to our modern nation began.”
Anthony Albanese, leader of the Australian Labor Party, said the country must recognize that its history “does not go back to 1788. It dates back over 65,000 years.
“Australia Day means different things to different people. For me it is a chance to recognize the past, to recognize the present and to hope for the future.
Grace Tame, who was named Australian of the Year on Monday, also weighed in by expressing support for a change in the date of the National Day.
“It doesn’t cost us as a nation to actually change this date. And that would mean a lot to this community and to our national community. I think it’s important, ”she said in an interview with The Age and Sydney Morning Herald newspapers.