• Greens MP Lidia Thorpe is calling for January 26 protesters to wear black and fly flags at half-mast. (AAP)Source: AAP
First Nations politicians discuss the contentious date, with calls for peaceful protesters to wear black, councils to fly the Aboriginal flag at half-mast and for Australians to reflect in a respectful way.
Sarah Collard, Shahni Wellington

23 Jan 2021 - 10:52 AM  UPDATED 23 Jan 2021 - 10:55 AM

NITV News speaks to Indigenous politicians who have shared their thoughts on January 26, the controversial day that sparks an annual conversation and prompts Australia to reflect on its past.

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe will attend a dawn service in Melbourne before attending the Invasion Day rally that begins at state parliament. 

For the Gunnai and Gunditjmara woman, the day is about acknowledging the true history of the country.

"This is not about being divisive, this is not about being racist. This is about truth-telling so that we can move forward together and be a united country," she said.

"Thousands of Aboriginal people have died, starting with the frontier wars where Aboriginal people died fighting for this country against colonisation and invasion."

Ms Thorpe has encouraged other rally attendees to wear black in protest. She has also called for the Aboriginal flag to be lowered on the day.

"The flag at half-mast is very important. It's a symbolic gesture that sends a very clear message to all Australians that something is wrong here," she said.

"It can't be just up to black followers to educate the whole country there's not many of us, available to do that.

"We're all fighting the struggle every day so we expect our allies to stand up and start educating themselves, their families, their communities their workplaces and their sphere of influence so that we can get everyone on board and work towards a real peace treaty that will ultimately unite this country once and for all."



A 'difficult' day

Labor MP and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the day is difficult for many Indigenous peoples. Still, she urged Australians to commemorate the day 'respectfully'.

"It's a difficult day for First Nations people. It's difficult because of dispossession, because of the massacres," Ms Burney said,

Ms Burney said that more Australians are slowly gaining a greater understanding of the impact of colonisation and first contact on Indigenous people.

The Wiradjuri woman said all Australians must reckon with a difficult and painful history that the nation shares.

"For me personally, Australia Day is very much about survival… This was the day that the first fleet sailed into the Sydney harbour and life for Aboriginal people would never be the same again" she said.


There have been increasing calls to change the date by activists and some Indigenous groups or scrap Australia Day altogether; but both Burney and Thorpe believe the day can be used to gain a deeper understanding of our history.

"We need to deal with the date and what that means for one part of the country and what it means for the other part of the country and look at ways we can bring people together to heal." Senator Thorpe said. 

Ms Burney said she expected Australia Day would be held on January 26 for the foreseeable future.

"The pragmatist in me says that we are going to be stuck with this date. It may change in the future but what we can do - is change the way we spend that day."

Respecting the history

Yanyuwa woman and Labor senator, Malarndirri McCarthy called for all Australians to reflect and pause to honour the sacrifice and losses since the First Fleet arrived.

"If we can have a dawn service and remember the deaths of so many people in the World Wars on ANZAC Day then go on to commemorate the freedom of our country - as all Australians - then we should be able to do that on January 26 as well." Senator McCarthy said.

"Many First Nations people know that we can look at that one day of the year where there can be respect for the history of First Nations people in this country and for our future."

'Walk together, as one'

The Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said in a statement that January 26 is a time for reflection and respect. 

"On Australia Day we can walk together, as one, to reflect, respect and celebrate all that makes us Australian - Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Because we're all part of the story," the Noongar, Yamatji and Wongi man said.

While celebrations would always continue, he said, it was also a time to honour and remember the toll colonisation has had on Indigenous peoples.

"It's important to acknowledge that 26 January means different things to different people, particularly Indigenous Australians," he said.

"Before we celebrate what's great about Australia Day we should pause to reflect on the impact European settlement had on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and their way of life."

He urged Australians to connect with First Nations people's long histories and cultures and reflect on how the country has changed.

"It's a day where we can respectfully learn about the ongoing history, traditions and cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose way of life was disrupted - but has made possible what Australia is today."