Australia Day 2020 celebrations on Sunday escalated as thousands of people flock to beaches and music festivals amidst tragedy of bushfires which have claimed 33 lives and destroyed hundreds of homes.
Thousands of people rallied in support of the indigenous Australians who regard Australia Day, as the day which marks the beginning of white settlement, as “Invasion Day.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison described Australia Day as a time to acknowledge the country’s stories, both ancient and recent once.
“And, as we have been reminded especially in these most recent times, stories of drought, bushfires, adapting to the many challenges that come with living in this great continent,” Morrison recounted in his Australia Day address.
“But we would have it no other way as Australians because we love this land, its beauty and, yes, we know its terror, in all of its riches and all of its blessings, and we are a free, diverse and accepting people.”
Australia Day marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the “First Fleet” of British ships at Sydney Cove. Britain claimed Australia, declaring it an empty land, but indigenous Australians trace their lineage back 50,000 years and reclaimed it.
Although indigenous Australians want Australia Day abolished, but the prime minister has promised to defend the holiday’s date. Australia’s 700,000 or so indigenous people track near the below of its 25 million citizens in almost every economic and social indicator.
Protesters rallied on Sunday carrying red, black and yellow indigenous flags and signs “No Pride in Genocide. 26 January is a bad day, a hurtful day, but we come here for solidarity. We need a new day because we can never celebrate the day of the invasion,” Bundjalung elder Gwen Williams-Heckling told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Blazing fires across Australia’s bushland have affected an area nearly the size of Greece since early October, leaving 33 people dead, including firefighters and volunteers, and millions of animals.
The PM, Morrison announced The National Emergency Medal will be awarded to emergency responders battling the 2019-20 bushfires.
“The response to the bushfires situation has been unprecedented with thousands of volunteer and paid responders working around the clock, day and night, week after week to protect property and save lives,” he said, acknowledging some firefighters were battling blazes on Australia Day.
Rao Asim, a Pakistani fellow who became an Australian citizen on Sunday with his wife Hina and their two children, revealed during the broadcast ceremony that his family had changed their plans on how to celebrate. “We had big (party) plans. But we have decided as a family to donate the money for the bushfires relief effort,” he said.