Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site

Why the media downplays Invasion Day



On Sunday morning, as I was on the tram headed into the Melbourne Invasion Day rally, I sarcastically tweeted that I was 'getting in early' (about one hour before the rally actually started) to announce that the Melbourne rally had approximately 200,000 attendees. I added that I was doing so to beat the media's 'racist underreporting' of the numbers. I then sat back and watched the escalating retweets in the hope that the mainstream media might see the dig and be challenged to do better.

Marchers at the Melbourne Invasion Day Rally. Photo by Tim KroenertIt was mildly amusing to see some people take my tweet seriously and report those numbers onwards despite there being no way my tweet could have been taken as legitimate. I found myself having to correct the record more than once. As it turns out though, given the underreporting of numbers across this country, I could have easily sold that 200,000 people as the people who miraculously disappeared in media coverage.

I've written about this issue before but I have to wonder why, a year or so down the track, it's still a problem. At what point is the media going to realise that the Invasion Day rally — a protest that has been going on in some form or other since 1938 — is not going away and, indeed, is growing? Surely, by now, the media has worked out that the Invasion Day rallies have steadily grown in participation over a few years?

Given that they are now one of the most attended events happening on that day, it's in the media's interest to report them accurately. This participation growth would, for example, suggest a heightened public interest in the Indigenous rights movement. So given that, by which year can we expect some honesty in our media when it comes to the Aboriginal message? 

I'm convinced that the media really don't want to report Invasion Day, as reminding the public to fear Indigenous people and our rights has been their practice for centuries now.

Take, for example, this coverage from Channel 9 covering the Melbourne rally. Not only did it underreport the rally size by a few tens of thousands, they sloppily labelled the rally as a rally to 'change the date' even though all protest information stated otherwise and has done for years. In addition, it made out that protesters in attendance were arrested. In actual fact, there never has been any threat of violence from the continuously peaceful Invasion Day attendees and the two people arrested in Melbourne were two serial pests from far right groups who'd gathered to harass the protesters. 

Looking at all the coverage across the country for Invasion Day, the best I could find regarding an estimation of crowd size was 'tens of thousands' via multiple sources — so really, anything between 10,000 and 90,000 if you forget that 100,000 and beyond are also multiples of ten. I suppose it's better than the time I saw a media report on the rally a few years ago stating that there were 150 people at the rally when the real estimates were 50,000, but it's still not terribly honest.


"Do we want to be the type of country where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their allies feel the need to take to the streets for another 250 years, or are we after a healthier, more honest future?"


Coverage regarding the size of the rallies didn't improve across the country. In Brisbane, reports stated 500 when photographic evidence suggests it was at least ten times that number. In Sydney, 'tens of thousands' was the closest we could get to an accurate crowd estimate. The dedicated team at NITV ensured via their respectful reporting that our voices were heard, but we shouldn't have to rely on the Indigenous media to do the job properly.

At least these rallies were even reported on. In Newcastle, the best the community organisers of a rally could hope for was a Facebook post on their local ABC page. Even then, that post was promptly removed when it was decided that it was simply too much effort to moderate comments from racist trolls. It was as if this event which attracted around 2000 people never actually happened.

Why is this continual failure of the media to tell the story such a big deal to me? I think that at a time where we are fabricating circumnavigations to celebrate a white bloke who wrongfully claimed this was 'land belonging to no one' and then went on to other lands to rape, pillage and kidnap there (indeed, kidnapping a Hawaiian chief led to his death), it's important to ensure that the public is properly educated and informed. 

In addition to this, 250 years is also quite a significant anniversary for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It's 250 since our lands were 'claimed' and the process of colonisation began. We could use that opportunity to mourn what we've lost via colonisation, educate others on our history and celebrate the fact that despite Australia's best efforts, we are still here. 

Two hundred and fifty years is a good opportunity for Australia to look at itself. Do we want to be the type of country where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their allies feel the need to take to the streets for another 250 years, or are we after a healthier, more honest future? Until Australia deals with the legacy of 'terra nullius', Indigenous protesters will be there to remind the uniformed that it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land.



Celeste LiddleCeleste Liddle is a trade unionist, a freelance opinion writer and social commentator. She blogs at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist.

Main image: Marchers at the Melbourne Invasion Day Rally. Photo by Tim Kroenert

Topic tags: Celeste Liddle, Invasion Day, racism



submit a comment

Existing comments

I tend to watch only SBS or ABC news broadcasts on TV. On Australia Day the contrast was remarkable. SBS had one program which covered as pets of the colonial wars and suppression of indigenous populations; the evening news broadcast gave I thought very full coverage to the quite astonishing numbers who turned out for Invasion Day commemorations and protests, nationwide. In contrast, the ABC 7 pm news service gave a cursory reference mid broadcast, giving no impression at all of the extent or significance of an event which on any reading was certainly newsworthy because of its scale. Almost certainly in my view, ABC programmers did not want to cloud its infotainment agenda for Australia Day evening with dark matter. I am an old white male, supportive but never particularly proactive about first nation issues; basically sympathetic to need to recognise the simple truth that this nation was formed by conquest. It is also important that the nation belatedly recognise, respect and take advantage of the wisdom inherent in cultures that survived for aeons before colonial settlement. A good start would be to ensure that Pascoe's Dark Emu and Langton's Welcome to Country are featured much more prominently in all discussion of First Nation people at all educational and media levels. That demand is made not so much as a matter of social justice or altruism but as a matter long term mutual social advantage.We should not allow our media and politicians to continue to lead us to turn a blind eye to what will prove to be a source of great resource for our modern nation.

Paul Munro | 31 January 2020  

Some of us can both understand our Indigenous peoples stance on Australia Day but also delight in a day that acknowledges Australia. And not feel that it’s bad to do so. Lambasting those who want to say they have pride in Australia does nothing to help cooperation

Rosemary Sheehan | 31 January 2020  

Well said Celeste, your observation of the media's coverage of the Invasion Day Rallies throughout Australia is a sad indictment of the failure of these broadcasters to live up to their responsibility to accurately inform the people of Australia about what is actually happening. Sure, they have the right to comment but their prime obligation is to inform us of the facts. Please keep on keeping on to enable more of us to join this demonstration of the reality of this day as an cluttered historical event. Next year, hopefully will be too big a gathering and expression of what we are "celebrating" to be ignored. Congrats.

michael schell | 31 January 2020  

Good article Celeste. I agree with your final sentence when you say Until Australia deals with the legacy of 'terra nullius', Indigenous protesters will be there to remind the uniformed that it always was, and always will be, Aboriginal land'. The real question, as you say, is how much longer will this go on? I reckon the answer is that our current position is a consequence of setting up and continuing the capitalist system in Australia. For me that means the only solution is revolution. But we can do a lot in the interim, like recognising prior sovereignty and paying the rent. That I suspect is too much for the companies grown rich on this stolen land. Only a big mass movement making demands like those I set out before, on government has a chance of wining, I reckon.

John Passant | 31 January 2020  

I suspect the situation is much more complex than the author thinks. I know many people, like me, would be happy for the date to be changed, but we don't want any day called Invasion Day. The world is becoming ever more divided and we need to focus on inclusion and a positive approach to the future, while understanding the past. As well as the "opportunity to mourn what we've lost via colonisation" there is an opportunity to celebrate what Indigenous people have gained, particularly over the last 30 years.

Russell | 31 January 2020  

Should we all therefore leave this country? Exagerated media reporting both ways is surely nothing new. I do not consider myself an invader and I am sure neither are most Australians. You have just spoilt a very enjoyable day I had without such thoughts but being well aware that we do not all agree. Changing the date is not solving our problems, but surely in this day and age a civilised discussion about the significance of the day for all of us should be a possibility.

Peter M | 31 January 2020  

I’m nodding in a thoughtful, melancholy and distant way, Celeste.

Pam | 31 January 2020  

thank you Celeste . Always Was, Always Will Be

Michele Madigan | 31 January 2020  

Thanks Celeste. Your piece clarifies the resistance that never stops, to a simple acknowledgement that my people, all of us newcomers, live on stolen Land. The house I live in is on stolen Land. After the proposal that people take note of the 250 year anniversary of the last day before invasion, I stood on my front verandah & gazed across the little valley I see every day. Pondered who would have been there on that morning, what little non-threatening fires might have been sending little trails of smoke, who might have been gazing across from the spot I stood on. I decided to learn what the name of this valley is. Finding beautiful words for many things, several local places, but not this valley. So a simple pursuit has set itself before me. I would like to know the name of the valley I live in.

Bev | 31 January 2020  

Cook’s journal talks about his landing at Botany Bay in 1770 being opposed by two local people. He ordered they be fired upon and one was wounded. The Oxford English Dictionary records the word “Australians” being used in written form for inhabitants of this land as early as 1693. So his readers would have known what he meant if Cook has said two Australians had challenged his group. That landing occurred in late April. Should not these two Australian defenders of Australia, along with those who opposed earlier landings by Europeans and those who opposed the later expansion of European settlement be honoured on that day of self-congratulatory militarism, Anzac Day? They were Australians literally defending their homeland, not some pawns in the hands of foreign powers.

Gerard | 31 January 2020  

Isn't it because no one has come up with a suitable date to replace 26 January?

angela | 31 January 2020  

I wondered about this when the ABC news gave the march a very brief report this year. My thought was 'well fair enough', people fighting horrific bushfires to save their towns, houses and property don’t really want to hear urbanites telling them, particularly at this tragic time for many, that their land was stolen from the original occupants …. and I can understand that other media, who I think generally want to see reconciliation, would read the timing and circumstance likewise.

mike kelly | 31 January 2020  

A timely and well presented article Celeste. I share your sense of despair, especially given the sentiments expressed by several of my friends below. It may not need to be called 'Invasion Day', Russell, but it shouldn't be called Australia Day. 'Remembrance Day' might be an acceptable option; there is a precedent where the Americans commemorate 'National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day' on 7 December. If we want a public holiday and long weekend toward the end of summer why not formalise one around Chinese New Year which is just for celebrating unity and inclusion?

Ginger Meggs | 31 January 2020  

I was with you right up until your burst of temper, Celeste. I consider the Invasion Day demonstrators have a true and defensible position which deserves that the media should do their job with integrity. But how does the attack on Captain Cook, untruthful and uninformed as it was, help the cause? Publishing the facts is surely the bottom line, and not just for Channel 9!

Joan Seymour | 31 January 2020  

Thanks Celeste. Well said. I think of the Drmngnow song, 'Australia Does Not Exist'. Drawing/ erasing lines, then calling what's within those lines 'Australia' doesn't change what these lands truly are, and have been for 60,000+ years. First Nations folk's negative response (by and large) to Australia Day makes total sense. I wish more of us had the capacity to truly listen and try to understand.

Megan | 31 January 2020  

Agree entirely with your sentiments. Australia Day should be relocated to New Years Day as it was on that day that the colonies became One Nation (except for our peculiar institution of explicitly excluding our original landholders on our only human right reference). That said, no one likes to lose a lazy day off! Any decent lawyer will admit it was an invasion - Terra Nullius it was not. We need to take up our more advanced New Zealand cousins (who had the sense to retain their independence) and treat our First Nation peoples with more respect.

John Hall | 01 February 2020  

Yesterday has gone forever and left behind only memories and human waste. Hope and elevation of the human spirit that drive human progress can only be achieved in the todays and tomorrows, time too precious to be wasted in contemplation of an irretrievable past.

john frawley | 01 February 2020  

Ginger Meggs - When I read your comment I at first agreed because I understand why Aboriginal people are unhappy with the date. I've always been happy to change it. But to change it would probably be divisive and no one can agree on a day that seems authentic. Off the top of my head - - can we leave the day as it is, as a day that we all celebrate how lucky we are to live in this beautiful country where so many different people have come and shared aspects of their culture with the people who were here before them. And then create a new holiday called First People's Day - perhaps a seasonal time that was a traditional time for Aboriginal people to celebrate - that will also be a positive day for all Australians to appreciate what we have gained from their culture, and all that they still offer to this country.

Russell | 01 February 2020  

Thank you for your very pertinent article, Celeste. The media has rarely given Aboriginal people fair coverage. Having said this, I think Paul Munro is generally correct in his observation that the ABC and SBS - especially its National Indigenous TV Channel - give indigenous people much fairer coverage. In Adelaide on 26 January 2020 (Invasion/Survival/"Australia" Day), the Aboriginal community had a Survival day concert adjacent to the Tandanya Indigenous Arts Centre. I was there with my wife, niece with her children and several friends who support Aboriginal rights. I thought it was a great day. It included an indigenous dance led by Major Moogy Sumner - an Aboriginal elder who was a Greens senator candidate during the last federal elections. If we want a national day that is happily recognised by all Australians, I would suggest that 26 January is totally inappropriate . This is a day of great shame for Australians who believe in a fair go, social justice and human rights. I also note that this date has not always been observed as our national day. Australians should choose a national day that is acceptable to our indigenous people. To do this, we should assist them to have a national consultative body (like the one that the Howard government abolished without consultation) that can choose an appropriate day. And there is much more we should be doing to ensure greater justice eg a treaty, a constitution that includes reference to original Australians and more resources to halt black deaths in custody and improve the health of Aboriginal communities.

Andrew (Andy) Alcock | 01 February 2020  

Thanks Celeste, another straight shooting article that has attracted a broad range of comments. Having worked in Aboriginal affairs for both the federal and state governments, having a partner who is Aboriginal, and researching / reading anything I can lay my hands on re history of Australia ...... I have no problem at all with your article, in fact we need this discussion to continue and not lay dormant for another 12 months. I am heartened by my 87 year old neighbour who had an annual tradition of celebrating Australia day with a bbq with neighbours ...... kindly brought this to an end with the arrival of my partner as a dignified sign of respect. I trust that all things are possible. Please keep writing and challenging your readers.

Rob | 03 February 2020  

Similar Articles

Media needs ethical bushfire coverage

  • Monika Lancucki
  • 04 February 2020

The media serve an important role in keeping people informed in times of disaster and the social media campaigns to spend with businesses in fire-affected communities are having a helpful impact. But the nature, extent and motivation of media coverage of disasters such as the bushfires this summer needs to be considered.