Australia

A night of reflection before sunrise on the day that everything changed

People gathered for a night of reflection on the eve of Australia Day, at Barangaroo in Sydney. Source: AAP

Surrounded by 250 Aboriginal flags, people have gathered at Barangaroo to watch the sunrise on the day that changed everything for Australia.

After a night of live music, cleansing smoke and powerful words, there was silence as the sun rose on the day when everything changed. 

Indigenous and non-Indigenous people gathered under the Sydney Harbour bridge from dusk until dawn on the eve of Australia Day for a night of performance and reflection. 

The vigil, which is part of Sydney Festival, followed a smoking ceremony and procession through the streets of Sydney led by Indigenous Australians. 

Indigenous dancer perform a smoking ceremony during a vigil on the eve of Australia Day, at Barangaroo in Sydney, Saturday, January 25, 2020. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore) NO ARCHIVING
An Indigenous dancer performs a smoking ceremony during the vigil on the eve of Australia Day.
AAP

A "shield" was created to protect the crowd by 250 flag poles flying the Aboriginal flag - one for each year since the arrival of Captain James Cook. 

Some stayed overnight to watch the sunrise over Sydney Harbour in what Sydney Festival artistic director Wesley Enoch said was a time to think of the past and the future. 

"This water that has a memory of the arrival of ships, those that floated here way before the First Fleet and those who arrived with exploration in their hearts and an idea of what new life could be," he told the gathering. 

Torres Strait Islanders perform during a vigil on the eve of Australia Day, at Barangaroo in Sydney, Saturday, January 25, 2020. (AAP Image/Steven Saphore) NO ARCHIVING
Torres Strait Islanders perform during the vigil on the eve of Australia Day.
AAP

"In that quiet reflection, is a silent prayer, a thought for the future." 

In a powerful speech, Mr Enoch urged the crowd to make 26 January "a day worth living". 

"We need hope, we need a vision for the future that recognises our whole history."

He said more ceremony and ritual was needed. 

"When we were thinking about what this day means, the 25th of January - the day before it all changed - we were thinking what do we miss on our national day. We miss the idea of ceremony, of ritual, a way of connecting our long, long history to where we are now."

Singer-songwriter Dan Sultan performed during the vigil, telling the crowd that having his first daughter had changed the way he thought about this time of year.  

"She is the embodiment of breaking the cycle of trans-generational trauma and I'm going to do the best I can with her, that's all I can really do," he said.

"I'm going to raise a strong, proud Aboriginal, Chinese, Irish, Afghani, Scottish, Welsh little girl. She knows who she is and she knows where she's from and she'll be reminded of that, just like I was."

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