'Invasion day' rally draws crowds as agitator barred from ceremony

Tens of thousands of people descended upon Melbourne's CBD on Friday to take part in an "invasion day" rally amid rising tensions in the city and with police promising a "zero tolerance" approach to any violent behaviour.

Chanting "No pride in genocide" and "Always was, always will be Aboriginal land", protesters peacefully marched down Swanston Street to Flinders Street Station, arriving just after the official Australia Day parade came to an end, before moving to Treasury Gardens.

Organiser Tarneen Onus-Williams said the rally was not about moving Australia Day, it was about abolishing a day that celebrates genocide and bloodshed.

She told the crowd: "F--- Australia, hope it burns to the ground".

"All you fellas in your Australian flags should be ashamed of yourselves."

Elder Tony Birch told the crowd: "This country does not deserve a national celebration in any capacity".

"We should do nothing but continue to mourn this day," Mr Birch said.

Many of the marchers dressed in black to symbolise the mourning felt by the Indigenous community.

Uncle Bill Nicholson opened the rally with a welcome to Wurundjeri country.

"I'm so proud to have such a mob of us out here today and also our non-Indigenous mob because we need your support too," he said.

"People are starting to connect, people are starting to understand.

"Welcome to Wurundjeri. Welcome to Wurundjeri country. Have a deadly day."

A heavy police presence surrounded the march. There was no sign of far-right groups True Blue Crew and United Patriots Front who threatened to make an appearance at the CBD rally before their planned 'beach party' in St Kilda on Friday afternoon.

At Coburg Town Hall, at what was built up to be another 'flashpoint', right-wing identity Neil Erikson attempted to gatecrash a citizenship ceremony held by Moreland City Council in protest at their decision to no longer recognise Australia Day.

Mr Erikson, draped in an Australian flag, was joined by six other protestors, who were far outnumbered by a solid presence of police officers and private security staff.

The group was not allowed entry into the hall and instead stood out the front handing out flyers to people attending the ceremony and ??????welcoming'' them as immigrants to Australia.

Mr Erikson, who has been convicted of racial vilification, filmed the protest on his phone.

The decision by Moreland to no longer recognise Australia Day caused uproar when it was announced last year.

But unlike nearby Darebin and Yarra councils, which also boycotted Australia Day, it chose to continue holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26.

While he did not specifically mention the decision, Mayor John Kavanagh told the audience that he acknowledged that ??????today is a difficult day for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people''.

Earlier in the day, crowds lined to Swanston Street for the official Australia Day parade, with more than 1000 participants from Melbourne's varied cultural groups taking part.

Among them, adding a flourish of colour and panache, were beauty queen contestants vying for the titles of Miss Gay and Miss Transsexual Australia.

Aboriginal academic and female impersonator Harley Dunolly-Lee, 27, will be part of the group for the first time ??? going under the stage name Ana Diction.

Police said they they would be taking a "zero tolerance" approach to any Australia Day violence and would be on high alert for racially fuelled tensions that could escalate into dangerous brawls.

Deputy Victoria Police Commissioner Andrew Crisp said on Thursday that hundreds of extra officers, including specialist police forces, will be patrolling Melbourne's CBD and St Kilda beach foreshore.

"Our focus will be on ensuring the safety of the entire community," Mr Crisp said.

"We need all Victorians to reflect on their own behaviour and whether they might be disrupting the safety and enjoyment of those around them."

This year's "invasion day" march commemorated the first "Day of Mourning" 80 years ago.

On January 26, 1938, Yorta Yorta man William Cooper, with William Ferguson and John Patten, led a group of Aboriginal people calling for an end to celebrations marking the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788.

It was described as the first Aboriginal civil rights protest in Australian history.

The congress walked in silent mourning from Sydney Town Hall to Australia Hall.

What they said

William Morgan, 48, Gippsland

William Morgan.

William Morgan. Photo: Gene Hopkins

"It's great to see the numbers here, white and black, it's something I've never seen before, it's brought a tear to my eye.

"I just hope white Australia and black Australia can come together one day and understand each other."

Dinah Pitman, 71, Brunswick

Dinah Pitman.

Dinah Pitman. Photo: Gene Efron

"I'm here because Aboriginal people have been downtrodden for so long and we're benefiting from having pushed them off their land. Change the date!"

Dr Gregory Philips, 44, St Kilda

Dr Gregory Philips.

Dr Gregory Philips. Photo: Gene Efron

"We're saying to white Australia that they need to wake up, that without Aboriginal knowledge they won't survive climate change, and that Aboriginal people are the original landowners, and we are still landowners."

Maddie Spencer, 21, Northcote

Maddie Spencer.

Maddie Spencer. Photo: Gene Efron

"I'm here today because I think the way Indigenous people are treated in this country is unjust, and we want to do as much as we can to change that, coming here is a pretty small thing in the face of everything that they've experienced.

"I was pretty upset at the start when I heard Indigenous elders and people who organised the rally talk about what they've been through."

Jasper (16) and Ian (53) Hamm, Yarraville

Ian and Jasper Hamm

Ian and Jasper Hamm Photo: Gene Efron

Ian: "As an Aboriginal family we have a firm belief and a real emotional attachment about moving this day, to make a day that all Australians can gather around about going forward, not being anchored in the past, and that's what this day does"

Jasper: "My parents made me come, but I think it's important."

Philippa Day, 46, Coburg North

Philippa Day.

Philippa Day. Photo: Gene Efron

"I'm here because as a white Australian I think I need to support my fellow Australians of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island descent because it's their country that we're lucky to be a part of now.

"I think we need to stand up for equality and respect for all Australians and find a day that we can celebrate that isn't January 26.''

Liam, 26, Preston

Liam from Preston.

Liam from Preston. Photo: Gene Efron

"I'm here supporting Indigenous people because it's a day of mourning.

??????I just don't understand how you could celebrate the day when the violence and dispossession, of the colonial system began.

"It's pretty simple.''

With Gene Efron

The story 'Invasion day' rally draws crowds as agitator barred from ceremony first appeared on The Age.

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