Aboriginal people and supporters from across Australia are expected to descend on Sydney on January 26 for what is being described as a history-making march, three decades after the 1988 Long March that drew a crowd rivalling Vietnam War demonstrations.
Marchers — some who will travel from as far away as Western Australia’s Kimberley — will call for a treaty between the Commonwealth and First Nations people and recognition of Indigenous rights.
The Justice Through Treaty March is being organised by the Indigenous Peoples Organisation, which is made up of 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and people.
It has the backing of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.
Upwards of 15,000 people are expected to take to the streets starting in Redfern at about 9.30am and ending at Hyde Park.
Organisers hope the number of marchers could reach 40,000.
The day will also commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Long March, which coincided with Australia’s bicentennial celebrations and saw 40,000 people take to Sydney streets chanting for land rights.
“We’re taking the march into the heart of the city and that was a conscious decision to take the call for a treaty to the broader Australian public,” organiser and IPO chairperson Cathy Eatock said.
“There are events happening around Australia Day right across the city, but also in Hyde Park North. We’re in Hyde Park South.
“I’m expecting we will have strong support from the non-Aboriginal community as well.”
Speakers on the day will include the Independent MP for the NT seat of Nhulunbuy Mark Guyula, former Australian Human Rights commissioner Gillian Triggs, Congress co-chair Jackie Huggins, feminist Eva Cox and ACTU representatives.
A Treaty Talks Workshop will also be held from January 23-25 at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern. It will be led by Aboriginal Elders.
“I think it will be historic in that it is a national march. It is Aboriginal people coming together from across the country,” Ms Eatock said.
“It’s people coming together to assert the need for a treaty. We’re calling it historic because we expect the government, if not this government, then the next government, to respond. They need to respond.”
Ms Eatock said they were also hoping for a vehicle convoy.
National Congress co-chair Rod Little, who missed the 1988 march when he was in WA, will be among the crowd.
He said Australia had dealt with the important issue of same sex marriage and the time was now right for to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were one of the smallest populations in the country but had the worst statistics in areas from health to justice.
But the march doesn’t have the support of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, whose chief executive officer Nathan Moran said they got a shock when they were told in August that a rally was being planned for the land they oversee.
The council’s reach includes Hyde Park, Sydney Harbour, the Rocks and the CBD.
Mr Moran said the council held its own annual event to commemorate the important 1938 Day of Mourning, the protest held by Aboriginal people against 150 years of bad treatment and the seizure of their land.
He said many in the Sydney Aboriginal community still remember the 1988 march as a day of division between those supporting the bicentenary and those opposed to it.
Mr Moran said Australia Day had also become a big patriotic event for some Australians and he didn’t think there was much to be gained by directly confronting people who chose to celebrate Australia’s colonial past.
He said another Survival Day event being held in the heart of Sydney commercialised the day, which the council also viewed as “horrible”.