Many Australians see the Commonwealth Games as a sporting celebration but for Aboriginal activists they symbolise invasion, dispossession and a culture shunted to the sidelines.
Hundreds of protesters made their presence felt at the Games’ host city, Gold Coast, where three people were arrested in scuffles just before Wednesday’s opening ceremony.
Demonstrators also disrupted the baton relay and more action is planned during the tournament, which was hit by protests when it was held in nearby Brisbane in 1982.
This time around, the Games are taking place during a period of heightened awareness for indigenous rights, following large-scale protests on Australia Day in January.
“We call this the ‘Stolenwealth Games’ because we deserve more,” protest leader Wayne Wharton told demonstrators on Tuesday.
At the 1982 Games, about 2 000 people marched through Brisbane demanding recognition of Aboriginal land rights and an end to discriminatory government policies.
Three decades later, they say little has changed.
“What we are saying to the Commonwealth countries that are coming here is that it is a damn shame that they are willing to share in the crime scene of Australia,” said Wharton.
Aboriginal culture stretches back tens of thousands of years before the British began colonising Australia in the late 1700s.
Today they are the most disadvantaged Australians, with higher rates of poverty, ill health and imprisonment than any other community.
Aboriginals were believed to have numbered about one million at the time of British settlement but now make up only about 3% of the national population of 24-million — meaning there are fewer Aboriginals now than when the first Britons arrived.
Tens of thousands of people marched on this year’s Australia Day, January 26, in “Invasion Day” protests calling for a rethink of the national commemoration.
Australia Day marks the arrival of the first British settlers in 1788, which, protesters say, heralded the beginning of colonial oppression. — AFP