Voice referendum, plan to ‘abolish’ Australia Day in spotlight at rallies around the country

As the so-called change-the-date debate continues around the country, Dunghutti rights activist Paul Silva is floating another idea.

“Changing the date is not going to resolve the problem in any way shape or form,”  he said.

“We need to abolish Australia Day all together, it should never be celebrated,” he said.

“If someone invaded your home, murdered your family, and stole your land, I can 100 per cent guarantee that family would not be celebrating that day.

“I don’t know how it makes sense to any citizen of this country, to go out and have a barbecue and celebrate genocide.”

This year, debate about the date of Australia Day has a new context: plans for a referendum on an Indigenous voice to parliament.

An indigenous young man wearing sunglasses and a hat speaking into a megaphone, branding with indigenous art.
Paul Silva has campaigned in the past against Aboriginal deaths in custody.(Supplied)

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese says First Nations people asked for this official recognition in the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and that it is not Labor’s voice, or a symbolic gesture.

The bill will be introduced to parliament for scrutiny in March, and Australians are expected to vote on whether it should be enshrined in the constitution, in a referendum, by the second half of this year.

As Invasion Day rallies are held in every capital city around the country today, some people are planning to use the platform to argue a treaty is more important than the voice.

Mr Silva is the nephew of David Dungay Jnr, who died in Sydney’s Long Bay jail in 2015 while he was held down by guards and sedated.

He said the incident opened his eyes to systemic injustice in Australia.

For more than seven years, he has organised Invasion Day rallies in Sydney. 

Mr Silva said he mourns on January 26.

“It’s a day we wake up and feel so sad, it really affects us. And it does have a ripple effect throughout Aboriginal communities,” he said.

“It may have happened many years ago, but the process of intergenerational trauma and racism continues.”

Woman dressed in traditional clothing holding a stick
Birri Gubba and Gangulu woman Teila Watson has been speaking and singing about colonialism for years.(Supplied: Shannon Hayes )

For Birri Gubba and Gangulu woman Teila Watson, you would be hard pressed to find anyone celebrating the “genocide of their own people”.

The artist, also known as Ancestress, has been speaking and singing about the brutality of colonialism for years.

Today she hopes Australians consider redistribution of colonial wealth, and how they can make a contribution to a better future.

“White Australia has a Black future if it has any at all,” she said.

“The system of colonial democracy has shown us in a little over 230 years it is socially unsustainable. And … It is ecologically unsustainable.

“Unlike our systems of governance which thrived here for over 60,000 years.”

Close-up of woman's face
Teila Watson believes protesting on January 26 can help further Indigenous rights.(Supplied: Ailsa Walsh)

She said protesting the “colonial fairy tale” version of “so-called Australia” is one step towards fighting for Indigenous rights. 

However, Ms Watson does not believe a voice to parliament helps that cause. 

“It’s tokenistic,” she said.

“There are Indigenous people in the political system, as politicians, who use colonial views against our people and culture.

“How do we know that voice isn’t going to be someone like that, and is going to actually serve us?”

“Why do we need a voice, a special government body to advocate for our people?”

“Everything we have in this country our people have fought for and advocated for, not in a paid position … the government has never wanted to listen to us.”

“Because while we advocate for ourselves we also say give our land back, stop killing us.”

Woman standing in front of watefall and lake
Wandandian woman Mandy Braddick believes we should prioritise a treaty before the voice to parliament.(Supplied)

For Wandandian woman Mandy Braddick of the Gumea language group, having a treaty first is more important. 

“The fact that we don’t have a treaty is still huge in how we’re seen by this country,” she said.

Growing up, January 26 always signified a date of segregation for Ms Braddick from other Australians.

“I never felt a part of that day.”

“The whole meaning and branding of the day needs to be rethought, it’s derived from a very traumatic period in time.”

“How are indigenous people meant to feel included, when the very day is a celebration of colonisation?”

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