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Australia Day a 'day off' after tough years: premier

Nyk Carnsew and Duncan Murray -

NSW residents should come together and enjoy a day off on Australia Day despite the controversy surrounding the public holiday, the state's premier says.

Chris Minns says he will attend official events to mark the occasion on January 26 as Sydney Harbour becomes the centrepiece of free festivities and celebrations of Indigenous history.

"To be frank with you, it's been a tough couple of years," the NSW premier said on Wednesday.

"Most people in NSW need a day off and it's an opportunity for us all to come together.

"I've got official events on the day. Of course I'll be fulfilling them, but probably in the afternoon (I'll be) spending time with family and friends."

Public support for changing the date of Australia Day so that it is no longer associated with the arrival of European settlers has gained increasing traction in recent years.

Casey Donovan will perform at an Australia Day concert in Sydney. (Regi Varghese/AAP PHOTOS)

Official events hosted by the NSW government and the state Australia Day Council have been designed to balance respect and reflection while also being a celebration, according to council chair Andrew Parker.

"We hope everyone can find common ground with a sense of optimism and kindness towards each other and all Australians," he said.

Beginning at dawn, events will include lighting the Opera House sails with Aboriginal art, followed by a smoking ceremony at Barangaroo Reserve and the simultaneous raising of the Australian and Aboriginal flags on the harbour bridge.

As the day progresses, festivities will also include the annual harbour ferry race, an aerial performance by Air Force aircraft and an evening concert featuring performances by Casey Donovan, Dami Im, William Barton and Kate Miller-Heidke.

Australia Day Council of NSW deputy chair and Wiradjuri woman Yvonnne Weldon said the program reflected the ancient and diverse cultures within the modern nation.

Speaking at a launch event, she said the council had been extremely respectful and inclusive of Indigenous perspectives.

"We are engaging in a meaningful way ... with First Nations people and making sure that their views are included in the program," Ms Weldon said.

She acknowledged the criticism of the public holiday but stood by the importance of the day.

William Barton says a concert at the Opera House is a chance to showcase Aboriginal traditions. (Morgan Hancock/AAP PHOTOS)

"It's disappointing that these conversations only take place coming up to the 26th of January," Ms Weldon said.

"The hard work and the true engagement should have been posted on every other day."

Barton, along with fellow Aboriginal performer Loren Ryan and former Air Supply guitarist Rex Goh, performed a cover of Cold Chisel's 1984 single Flame Trees with lyrics in Gamilaroi language at the event.

He sees the concert at the Opera House as an opportunity to showcase Aboriginal traditions and ceremonies for a multicultural audience.

"I use the stage as my place of expression that connects our ancestral song lines to the earth," Barton said.

"That day, Australia Day, is multicultural, but it is a day of truth-telling and ceremony."

The official events will take place as an "Invasion Day" rally heads from Belmore Park near Central Station to the Yabban Festival at Victoria Park near Sydney University.

Nyk Carnsew and Duncan Murray - AAP


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