Spectacular works of art applied to the Opera House at dawn heralded the start of Australia Day in Sydney before hundreds of people gathered later in the morning for the national holiday.
Kamilaroi wife Rhonda Sampson’s vibrant artwork was projected onto the sails of the Opera House, while Australian and Indigenous flags were hoisted simultaneously atop the Harbor Bridge, symbolizing unity, recognition and inclusion.
“I hope my artwork gives us an opportunity to reflect on and learn about the bond Gadigal people have always had with the land and the waters,” said Sampson.
“This day evokes a lot of feelings and we have to reflect on that.”
Hundreds showed the depth of their feelings at the annual “Invasion Day” gathering.
The crowd called for land rights, an end to deaths in custody and the abolition of the Australia Day national holiday when they gathered at Sydney’s Belmore Park on Thursday.
In the 31 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, there have been more than 500 additional deaths.
In a fiery speech, Wiradjuri woman and Greens candidate for the upper house of NSW Linda June Coe called on people to reject the federal government’s upcoming referendum on an Indigenous vote in parliament, calling it a “misconception”.
“White Australia, this is the reckoning – 235 years and we’re not going anywhere,” she told the crowd.
“They tried to wipe us out, still here. They tried to breed us out, still here. They tried to commit genocide on us, still here!
“Brisbane, Melbourne, we are all mobilizing against the fallacy that is constitutional recognition. My people, this is the voice.”
The day also marks the 20th anniversary of the WugulOra smoking ceremony in Barangaroo.
The ancient ceremony, attended by dignitaries including Prime Minister Dominic Perrottet and Governor Margaret Beazley, paves the way for new beginnings and celebrates the Gadigal people of the Eora nation through music, dance, language, storytelling and ceremony.
There were performances by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dancers and singers, including the Koomurri Aboriginal Dance Troupe and singer Christine Anu.
Yvonne Weldon, deputy chairperson of NSW’s Australia Day Council, said Australia Day was a time for reflection.
“Each day we follow in the footsteps of our ancestors, and as we gather it is important to reflect on our past, remember and honor those who have come before us and our history – and the survival of our people, celebrate our culture and our history. ” she said.
Amid the controversy, some companies, including Deloitte, KPMG, CSL and other large companies, have allowed employees to work on Australia Day and take a day off at another time.
A full range of traditional official events includes the Sydney Harbor Splash, where swimmers compete in a 2.5km or 5km swim course.
With temperatures expected to reach 33C, thousands of people are expected to gather along the harbor waterfront for the Ferrython – one of the most popular and iconic events, as well as a fast jet-fly over, the tall ships race and regatta.