• Thousands have gathered in Melbourne to protest against Australia Day. (AAP)Source: AAP
At rallies around the country the most polarising Australia Day in living memory is underway as tens of thousands of people take to the streets calling for a change of date.
Rachael Hocking, Ella Archibald-Binge, Kris Flanders, Nakari Thorpe

26 Jan 2018 - 8:35 AM  UPDATED 27 Jan 2018 - 10:06 AM

Tens of thousands have joined "Invasion Day" and "Change the Date" rallies around the country. Marches and protests are planned Australia wide today as First Australians continue their fight to have Australia day removed from January 26.

In Sydney thousands marched from Redfern's The Block and into the city with marchers chanting "always was, always will be Aboriginal land".

At another rally in Sydney's Hyde Park Federal Labor MP Linda Burney said she remembered the first 1988 march

"On the 26th January 30 years ago, we marched from Redfern Park. The most thrilling moment of my life," she said addressing the crowd.

"The issues haven't changed a great deal, but we have made progress."

She also referenced the announcement by NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley to make treaty negotiations formal policy for the NSW Labour party if elected.

"I've just come from Town Hall where today the NSW opposition agreed to negotiate a treaty with First Peoples," she told the crowd. 

Speaking to NITV News at the Block in Redfern was Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE) organiser Ken Canning who said there was a diverse range of people participating in today's rally.

"We're engaging with the general public because this is about people power. Not some misfits in parliament."

NSW Greens MP David Shoebridge told marchers in Redfern changing the date of Australia Day was just one step towards changing Australia for the better.

"We are part of an institution that makes the laws, that imprisons Aboriginal people, that has Aboriginal people being taken at twice the rate since Kevin Rudd said sorry, that put Tane Chatfield in jail, we need to commit to end that," he said.

"Yes let's commit to change the date, but the biggest struggle, the biggest thing we need to do is change this country." 

Hundreds gathered in the city centre, at Garema Place, to kick-off an Invasion Day March.

After a welcome to country and smoking ceremony, the crowd heard from a number of speakers including Yamah man Chris Tomlins who travelled from Alice Springs, and ACT Greens leader Shane Rattenbury.

The crowd made their way through the city, bringing traffic to a standstill, marching across Commonwealth Bridge to make their way to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy for a special smoking ceremony.

While it was a more demure event this year, after the passing of one of the embassy’s most devoted activists, Denis Walker, the passion and fight to be heard was still as evident as ever

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull  welcomed our newest Australians with the national citizenship ceremony on Lake Burley Griffen – while he paid homage to the First Australians.

“We honour their resilience and survival, respect and cherish their continuing contribution to our nation. It’s a heritage which we are proud and which we celebrate, it is uniquely Australian. We haven’t always recognised this truth as we should’ve done but all of us, including a newest citizens, are heirs to this history and it is our duty to learn, embrace and help preserve it,” he said.  

But Mr Turnbull said today’s focus should be on closing the gap rather than changing the date.

“We should be focusing on closing the gap, on health, on education, telling our story honestly, but remembering that this is a story of enormous achievement.” 

While January 26 means different things to different people but for the First Nations people, and in their supporters, in Canberra its marks the beginning of invasion for First Nations people, 230 years ago.

Bill Shorten has hit out at far-left and far-right Australia Day protesters, saying the national holiday shouldn't be an "idiot magnet". 

"Today's a great day for all the new citizens, but it also is a day of great pain, in particular for all of our first Australians," he said.

The opposition leader zeroed in on people causing trouble at rallies, with tens of thousands expected to turn out at events around the country.

"It doesn't matter if you're on the far right or far left, Australia Day shouldn't be an idiot magnet," Mr Shorten told reporters in Melbourne on Friday.

In Darwin, a crowd gathered out the front of Parliament House draped in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags and demanded politicians change the date. 

"We want a day that all Australians can celebrate together, that can't be today because the 26th represents invasion and the British coming to our country and taking over," Jawoyn woman Jessie Bonson explained. 

Across town, Larrakia woman and performer Ali Mills performed at an 'Australia Day' celebration that focused on Indigenous culture.

"I’m singing about my family, my elders and my ancestors, and I’m showcasing to people that don't know and those that want to know what we're connected to in our spirit," Ali Mills explained. 

"That’s a big reason why I came to sing at this event, to share and to educate and to promote, and to stimulate discussion and interest."

First Nations peoples further south in Alice Springs held their Freedom Fire event on the 25th January instead, recognising that date as the "last day of Freedom for Indigenous Australians". 

Around five thousand people have turned out to Brisbane¹s Invasion Day rally.

Protesters gathered at Old Parliament house where a handful of elders spoke about past and present injustices.

The crowd then marched through the CBD, bringing traffic to a standstill and stopping at a number of busy intersections to make their voices heard.


Brisbane-based comedian Steven Oliver was among the crowd, and told NITV News it was important to make a statement.

"I think people need to see something to bring an awareness about it, and to see this number that's here today, I think it¹s just getting bigger," he said.

"It¹s about remembering, it¹s about honouring, and it's about saying we're here, we¹ve always been here, we're not going anywhere."

Performances will continue throughout the afternoon in Musgrave Park.

Hundreds have gathered in Perth's Forrest chase for Perth's invasion day rally.

Temperatures were scorching but that didn't stop the crowds from coming out and showing their support.

Organisers are hopeful that Perth as a whole will be able to change the date after their success of Fremantle changing their Australia Day celebrations.

In Melbourne Victorian Greens MP Lidia Thorpe has recalled before a crowd the pain caused by Australia Day celebrations for First Nations People.

"I was five when I started marching on the 26th of January, my granddaughter is five, marching today. We need this pain and this suffering to stop in this country to stop towards its first people," she said.

We are sick of having a rally every 26th of January," she told reporters later on Friday, during an Australia Day protest on the steps of parliament in Melbourne.

"We are sick of having to justify our existence as Aboriginal people in our own country. We want to be part of a nation that celebrates us, but not on the 26th of January."

Victorian Greens leader Samantha Ratnam told the audience migrants understood what it is like to flee persecution and injustice and supported Indigenous Australians.

"The multicultural community stands proudly with First Nations people as we move towards social justice and reconciliation in this country."

Several hundred people have gathered on the steps of Parliament House in Adelaide, calling for the date of Australia Day to be changed.

Aboriginal elder Tauto Sansbury told the crowd that recognising the hurt caused by celebrating on the day the first fleet arrived must be the start of a wider conversation.

"People have said there's other issues to deal with, well no there's not," he said.

"This is the first one that breaks down the barriers. Then we can move onto all of the other things that are not right for Aboriginal people."

Hundreds turned into thousands as Aboriginal people in Hobart gathered with supporters to say January 26th is no date to celebrate.

In Tasmania crowds gathered at the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre then marched on from there through the city to the lawns of the Parliament House for a ceremony. 

Young people walked alongside their Elders with chants of “Australia Day is not ok...we won’t celebrate Invasion Day!”

Long time Aboriginal rights campaigner, Michael Mansell, was there to walk with his people.

Upon arrival at Parliament House a minutes silence was observed for ancestors, followed by a welcome to country, dancers and speakers who all said we need to change the date.

Australian of the year nominee's stirring words

Many marchers today were buoyed by Thursday's comments from Australian of the Year nominee Johnathan Thurston that the date will inevitable change one day.

The 36-year-old, who is set to retire from rugby league as one of the sport's greats after the upcoming season, also urged governments to make Indigenous affairs a priority after an "alarming" failure to meet Close The Gap targets over the past decade.

Thurston said the country needs to "have a chat" about Australia Day.

"It's not just about the First Fleet, it's about the stealing of the land, the misplacement of the stolen generation and the injustices that were done over the years," he said.

"Australia Day is meant to be inclusive of everyone but obviously some in our culture don't feel included on this day."

An Indigenous smoking ceremony and Welcome to Country at Barangaroo have kicked off Australia Day festivities in Sydney on Friday morning before a concert and fireworks at night bring the day to a spectacular close.

Indigenous performers including the Koomurri Aboriginal Dancers performed at Walumil Lawns and KARI Singers will sing the national anthem in English and Dharawal on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

A number of councils have spurned Australia Day on January 26, but celebrations are set to take off with festivals, parades and citizenship ceremonies.

Among them, adding a flourish of colour and panache, are beauty queen contestants vying for the titles of Miss Gay and Miss Transsexual Australia in Melbourne.

Aboriginal academic and female impersonator Harley Dunolly-Lee, 27, will be part of the group for the first time - going under the stage name Ana Diction.

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Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove is urging Australians to embrace Australia Day to celebrate the rich history and culture of indigenous people and the contributions of migrants.

Here's what Indigenous musicians think about 26 January
Some of Australia's most well-known Indigenous artists are using their voice to speak out about January 26 and changing the date.

As disagreement intensifies over shifting the national day from the January 26 anniversary of the First Fleet's arrival in 1788 and division widens amid growing "Invasion Day" rallies, Sir Peter reminded Australians to celebrate their diversity on Friday.

Additional reporting by AAP