Deputy PM tells Australia Day protesters to ‘crawl under a rock’

Protests take place on celebration day in Australia some find offensive to Aboriginals

Protesters in Adelaide on Thursday object to Australia Day, held annually on January 26th to mark the arrival in 1788 of the first fleet of British ships. Photograph: Tim Dornin/EPA

Protesters in Adelaide on Thursday object to Australia Day, held annually on January 26th to mark the arrival in 1788 of the first fleet of British ships. Photograph: Tim Dornin/EPA

 

Australia’s deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, has reacted angrily to people who refer to Australia Day as “invasion day” or who want the date changed from January 26th, which marks the arrival in 1788 of the first fleet of British ships.

A man was arrested and two people, including a policeman, were injured during a march in Sydney on Thursday to protest against Australia Day, which many Aboriginals consider offensive.

Thousands of people were marching in the city centre when one tried to set an Australian flag on fire. This led to riot squad officers running into the crowd and spraying the area with a fire extinguisher. Protesters and police then began shoving each other, with some protesters saying they were pushed to the ground.

There were also protest marches against the day in other cities, including a crowd of about 50,000 in Melbourne.

Mr Joyce said he was tired of people “weeping” about Australia Day. “Today is a day about celebration,” he said. “I’m just sick of these people who, every time, they want to make us feel guilty about it . . . They don’t like Australia Day, they’re just miserable . . . and I wish they’d crawl under a rock and hide for a little bit.”

One of those advocating a change of date for Australia Day is Mr Joyce’s former ministerial colleague, Ian MacFarlane.

“I had a bit of a thought about what it would’ve been like if we were in the United Kingdom and I was being asked to celebrate on the day the Vikings raped and pillaged Arrochar, my father’s homeland; or the day my mother’s forebears were cut in half by English grapeshot at Culloden and then hunted down with their families and murdered,” he told ABC radio.

Controversial advert

As tensions rose this week, the Canberra Theatre Centre was threatened with violence for using an advertisement promoting Australia Day that featured two Muslim girls wearing hijabs.

The anti-Islamic group Respect Australia gave the theatre’s contact details to its members. The theatre was forced to shut its social media pages after it was inundated with hundreds of threatening messages, including calls to bomb or set fire to the building.

In a Facebook video, a Respect Australia organiser is seen with supporters in front of the theatre, accusing those who run it as being “unAustralian”.

The opposition Labor Party leader, Bill Shorten, addressed the controversy while attending a citizenship ceremony in Melbourne.

“Whatever one’s view about the date of Australia Day, I think we can all agree that we should remember our first Australians for whom this day actually carries some sadness,” he said. Mr Shorten said Aboriginals had suffered “disease, dispossession and all too often death” after the first fleet arrived.

About 16,000 people, including hundreds from Ireland, became Australian citizens in ceremonies held across the country.

One of those was Mark Alcorn from Co Antrim. “The Irish community here is brilliant especially with all the rugby. And in a lot of ways you kind of find a home away from home,” he said.