January 26 — a date that marks the beginning of white occupation in Australia and the changed lives of First Nations peoples — often brings with it a loud chorus of competing voices, opinions and events.
As an alternative to this experience, Sydney Festival event 'The Vigil' will return to Barangaroo Reserve, inviting audience members to sit by the campfire and enjoy a night of quiet reflection through live performances by Indigenous artists.
The night's event will officially begin at Sydney Town Hall with 'The Procession', a ceremony led by Aboriginal elders, which will wind its way down to Barangaroo with a smoking ceremony, traditional song and dance.
"We can have a party and a solemn remembrance in the same day, and they're not seen as antithetical," says Sydney Festival director, Wesley Enoch. "The Vigil is an opportunity to start a ceremonial reflection before any other kind of celebrations, to commemorate what the indigenous experience was in this country before white people arrived here."
During the evening, participants will be prompted to consider our Indigenous heritage, the institutions that have come to dominate our culture and that are marked by Australia Day celebrations across the country, and to consider where we are now as a nation.
"We can have a party and a solemn remembrance in the same day, and they're not seen as antithetical."
Enoch affirms that the event is not a protest, "or a big concert", but rather a more solitary moment.
"To sit on the landscape, look at the harbour, watching the Harbour Bridge, watching the ships go by and thinking about this landscape, before white people were here, and what your connection is to that history," he describes.
The ceremony will give audiences a chance to reflect upon Australia’s rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage, as well as its colonial institutions and contemporary multicultural migration through live music, choral and poetry performances.
NITV presents a selection of dedicated programming, special events and news highlights with a focus on encouraging greater understanding of Indigenous Australian perspectives on 26 January. Join the conversation #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe