26 Jan 2017

Police and protesters clash in Australia Day rally

9:50 pm on 26 January 2017

A police officer has been injured and a man arrested after clashes between police and protesters at an indigenous rights march through inner-city Sydney.

A police officer has been injured and a man arrested after clashes between police and protesters at an Invasion Day march through inner-city Sydney.

Protestors wave the Australian Flag with the Union Jack cut out and an Aboriginal Flag, during a protest, organized by Aboriginal rights activists on Australia Day in Melbourne,

Protestors wave the Australian national flag with the Union Jack cut out and the Australian Aboriginal Flag during a protest organised by Aboriginal rights activists on Australia Day in Melbourne. Photo: AFP / Anadolu Agency

Marking the growing debate around the date of Australia Day, thousands of people marched through the heart of Sydney's Aboriginal community, Redfern, onto the city and up to Victoria Park where the Yabun festival was being held.

Police said just before 1pm a protester allegedly set fire to a flag within the crowd.

Officers responded by using an extinguisher to put out the fire, and a brief struggle ensued which injured a policeman.

Thick white smoke could be seen coming out of the crowd.

A woman who was participating in the march also sustained minor injuries. She was treated by paramedics at the scene before being taken to hospital as a precaution.

The police officer has also been taken to hospital for assessment.

A 20-year-old man was arrested and was taken for questioning at the Redfern Police Station.

Police said it was an "isolated incident in an otherwise peaceful demonstration" and overall they were pleased with the behaviour of the crowd.

The march resumed with protesters chanting in opposition to police power and continued on to Victoria Park safely.

There have been no other reports of injuries.

The state's new premier, Gladys Berejiklian, condemned the violence.

"We have a democracy and everyone has a right to protest, but today is celebrating everything that brings us together, and I think most people would feel extremely disappointed at what they have seen today," she said.

"It's not acceptable to do that on a day like today, however please feel free to express your views."

Protests held throughout Australia

Hobart had their largest crowd to date at the protest, with Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre president David Warrener telling the crowd the date was not appropriate and it continued to be a day of invasion.

Tasmanian governor Kate Warner added to the debate, saying changing the date was something for Australians to consider.

In Brisbane, more than 1000 people rallied outside the state parliament.

They chanted "change the date" and "always was, always will be Aboriginal land" as they marched through through the city to Musgrave Park.

There was expected to be live music and food at the park, which was a gathering spot for the local Aboriginal community.

A march held in Alice Springs was tied in with protests against the treatment of children at the Don Dale Detention Centre.

Among the protesters was Kirra Voller, the sister of Dylan Voller, who was filmed restrained and hooded while in detention at Don Dale.

Glora Lyons, who attended the Redfern Invasion Day protest, said Australia Day represented a war.

"It signifies the colonisation and the genocide, what happened when Captain Cook landed out there in Botany Bay," she said.

"The day signifies for me our survival, survival of my people."

Opinions split on the date

Early this morning, hundreds gathered at Sydney's Barangaroo Reserve for a smoking ceremony performed by Aboriginal dancers.

It was followed by singers from 10 Sydney choirs performing a song in the Darug language, as the Australian and Aboriginal flags were raised on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

Jacinta Tobin, who co-wrote the piece, said it was an amazing moment.

"The tune in the song was given to me by spirit," she said.

Ms Tobin said she was thrilled with the response.

"I'm just overwhelmed with all the response and the love," she said.

The crowd was told that while Australia Day was one of sorrow for many Aboriginal people, it was important to come together as a community.

Indigenous elder Uncle Max Harrison said it was a great morning.

"I just hope that the public could understand and look at our cultural day within this day that they call Australia Day," he said.

"Our mob needs to be acknowledged just a little bit more, not just a tokenistic thing."

Uncle Max said the date of Australia Day was not of too much consequence, but the importance of understanding indigenous culture should not be understated.

"Our people have got to learn to accept what happened, but try and get the non-indigenous people to understand," he said.

"It's got to be acknowledged."

- ABC

Get the new RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs