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PM hails diverse country on Australia Day

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The prime minister has met with Indigenous elders for a smoking ceremony as official Australia Day commemorations kick off around the nation.

Anthony Albanese joined Governor-General David Hurley for the private event ahead of the flag-raising ceremony in Canberra.

Alinta Barlow and the Luminescence Children’s Choir sung the national anthem first in English then in the local Indigenous Ngunnawal language.

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It was followed by a 21-gun salute that rang out over Lake Burley Griffin.

“Today, as we gather to celebrate the next chapter in the success story of our great and diverse society, let us all recognise the unique privilege we have to share this continent with the world’s oldest continuous culture,” Mr Albanese said.

Canberra’s Aunty Violet Sheridan used her welcome to country to call for unity.

“I’m a proud Ngunnawal Aboriginal woman but I’m also a proud Australian,” she said.

“I want us to come together.”

Millions of people across the nation will mark the 235th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip landing at Sydney Cove on the holiday through celebration, commemoration or protest.

Governor-General David Hurley said Australia had become a country to be proud of since that day, one made stronger by the history, traditions and culture of Indigenous people.

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“Our individual identities and stories weave together into a modern, diverse nation of people,” he said.

“That is worth celebrating. Yes, there are many challenges and yes, we don’t agree on everything.

“We do however work hard, look out for each other and are not afraid to take on the big challenges.”

More than 19,000 people from over 140 countries will become Australia’s newest citizens on Australia Day.

Mr Albanese thanked those taking up citizenship in ceremonies nationwide.

“Joining our Australian family, joining us as proud citizens of the greatest country on earth and joining us as partners in the ongoing task of making it greater still,” he said.

Festivities in Sydney began at dawn with a projection on the Opera House by Kamilaroi woman and artist Rhonda Sampson acknowledging the important role of women around the waters of Sydney Cove before Captain Phillip’s 1788 arrival.

It was followed by a smoking ceremony at Barangaroo, held for the 20th year to celebrate the culture and language of Indigenous people.

A traditional ferry race across the harbour will follow later on Thursday.

The Andrews government in Victoria has cancelled the annual street parade through Melbourne, choosing to focus on local gatherings.

But a 21-gun salute will occur at midday at the Shrine of Remembrance followed by the RAAF Roulettes city fly-over.

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For many people, Australia Day will be business as usual.

Deloitte, KPMG, CSL and other large companies have allowed employees to work on Australia Day and take a day of leave at another time as part of their flexible cultural leave arrangements.

Invasion Day or Survival Day rallies will be held in all capital cities, providing a visual reminder of opposition to the public holiday.

Polling from conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs suggested three-and-a-half times more Australians support Australia Day remaining on January 26 than those who were opposed.

But support decreases among younger age groups. Among 18-to 24-year-olds, only 42 per cent were in favour compared to 30 per cent against maintaining the day.

An annual Roy Morgan poll asking about naming the date Australia Day or Invasion Day remained relatively stable on a 64-36 split.

– AAP

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