By ALLISON HORE
A mass rally in Sydney to mark the 26th of January is set to go ahead despite COVID-19 restrictions prohibiting protest gatherings larger than 500 people.
Undeterred by COVID-19 restrictions on the number of people allowed to attend protest gatherings, organisers of the annual Invasion Day protest have confirmed their Sydney protest will go ahead as planned. The protest will begin at 9am in the Domain, known as Djarrbarrgalli to the land’s traditional owners, and march through the city.
Coming into effect in October last year, COVID-19 restrictions allow for up to 500 protesters to gather, or one person per four square metres of space if that amount is fewer than 500. Previously, only 20 people were allowed to gather and separate groups of 20 identified as being in the same place for one “common purpose” were classed as one group.
On a Facebook page for the event more than 1,000 people have said they plan to attend, with a further 2,000 expressing interest in attending. This means the crowd on the day is expected to be much larger than the 500 person limit.
But rally organisers say the issues faced by First Nations peoples are too pressing for the protest march demanding change not to go ahead, even if it breaches the regulations.
The rally will highlight many issues facing Indigenous people including an end to the killings in custody, the forced removal of children and the destruction of the land and the climate, including through the recent approval of Santos’ major new Narrabri coal seam gas development on Gamilaraay Country.
Rally organiser Elizabeth Jarrett, a Gumbaynggirr, Bundjalung and Dunghutti woman, said these issues faced by Indigenous people have not been put on hold by the pandemic, so nor too should their calls for action.
“Unlike COVID, the virus of colonial racism that came to these lands in 1788 can not be defeated by self-isolation or quarantine. We need to come together and fight back,” she said.
“Throughout the pandemic our people are still being locked up and killed and our children are being taken at ever increasing rates. We will not stop until our sovereignty is recognised and we see justice.”
The march will also call for “Australia Day” to be cancelled entirely. Indigenous people say celebrating the day, which marks the British arrival in Australia 233 years ago, sanitises the impact of this “invasion” on First Nations people.
Organisers say the rally will be a COVID-safe event with strict safety protocols. They urge Sydney-siders people not to come to the rally if they have “any cold or flu like symptoms” and to wear a mask and social distance if they choose to attend.