Tens of thousands of Indigenous Voice to Parliament supporters marched in Sydney yesterday in one of the biggest rallies seen in the city in recent years.
Ahead of the October 14 referendum the Walk for ‘Yes’ made a clear statement about the commitment of many Sydneysiders, despite lacklustre recent polling.
Before the march, Redfern train station teemed with people – with a diverse crowd, spanning different ages and backgrounds, sporting a colourful array of Yes-themed attire.
Estimates from the Yes23 campaign suggested about 30,000 attended, although a NSW Police spokesperson offered a more conservative estimate, citing around 12,000 to 15,000 people.
The enthusiastic crowd marched from Redfern Park along Chalmers and Cleveland streets to Victoria Park near Broadway, with many clapping and chanting “Yes,” as they waved signs in the air. In a harmonious display of unity, some attendees even sang You’re the Voice, the anthem music legend John Farnham has lent to the Yes campaign.
In scorching heat, volunteers distributed sunscreen and water, as temperatures exceeded a sweltering 30 degrees, and the first-aid tent at Victoria Park dealt with a number of heat stroke cases.
Marchers found some respite in the shade of the park as they watched performances by Dan Sultan and Missy Higgins, while stallholders were soon running short of an array of Yes merchandise, including T-shirts, hats and badges.
Thousands gathered in Sydney’s Redfern Park also heard from campaigners and politicians, including Yes23 spokesperson Rachel Perkins, who advocated for a united Australia in preparation for the upcoming vote.
Indigenous leaders, including Tribal Warrior chief executive Shane Phillips, expressed hope for a positive outcome in the referendum, saying: “I hope and pray that not just in my lifetime but in my grandchildren’s lifetime, this vote for ‘yes’ happens.
“Today, I see Australians coming together, embracing a simple yet profound idea—belonging together.”
Don’t ask what us Aboriginal people do for you, recognise what we have done for the last 60,000 years.
In a moment of spontaneity, the crowd sang happy birthday to New South Wales Premier Chris Minns as he took the stage.
The Premier emphasised the importance of the yes campaign, challenging those who persistently oppose the campaign, and asking: “If not this, then what? If not now, then when?”
“We’ve waited a long time, and there’s never been a better opportunity to take a giant leap forward in reconciliation in this country,” he continued.
“We have three weeks to go, and it won’t be easy, but we must make the case for yes.”
The event also saw representatives from diverse political parties speaking in support of the Yes campaign. Labor federal MP Tanya Plibersek said: “Australians are fair and egalitarian people who love justice and each other.
“Let’s demonstrate that love and decency to the world on October 14 by voting ‘yes’.”
Jacqui Munro, a NSW Liberal parliamentarian and the youngest Liberal woman elected to the NSW upper house, reassured Liberal voters, that the Voice aligns with Liberal values. She urged voters to say ‘yes’, adding: “No one person owns this referendum, but we all share responsibility.
“By voting ‘yes,’ we commit to reducing the layers of bureaucracy and sharing power outside the traditional halls, reaching some of our most marginalised communities.”
City of Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore told the crowd: “It provides all Australians with the long-overdue opportunity to correct the wrongs of the past 200 years and acknowledge the story and ongoing relationship of First Nations people with this land.
“I believe it is our moral duty to vote ‘yes’ on the 14th of October.”
Walk for Yes events drew similar crowds in Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Hobart, Canberra, Newcastle, and Darwin on Sunday, with an earlier event in Adelaide on Saturday. An estimated 200,000 people turned out nationally on the day to support the Yes campaign, with many smaller events being well attended in regional towns.
The support for the cause also extended beyond Australia’s borders to New York, reflecting the global resonance of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament initiative.
The latest Essential poll for the Voice referendum hinted at tough times ahead for Yes campaigners – with results showing support across all demographics still in decline.
Many marchers, however, dismissed the poor polling and told Central News they believed it would still be won.
Aunty Shirley Lomas, a Gomeroi woman and survivor of the Stolen Generations, was last to take the stage and, her words were a poignant reflection on the significance of the referendum.
Invoking the memory of President John F. Kennedy, she left the crowd with a powerful reminder: “Don’t ask what us Aboriginal people do for you, recognise what we have done for the last 60 000 years.”
Photos by Christine Lee.