The sails of the Sydney Opera House were illuminated at dawn today with artwork depicting and honouring stories of the Gadigal women of the Eora nation, recognising Australia's First Nations to kick off Australia Day in New South Wales.
After first light, both the Australian flag and Aboriginal Australian flag were raised together on top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
Kamilaroi woman and artist Rhonda Sampson from western Sydney was commissioned to create the artwork Diyan Warrane for the display on the Opera House sails.
The artwork represents the important role of First Nations' women around the waters of Warrane (Sydney Harbour).
These waters were known as the "women's domain", where Gadigal women would fish throughout the harbour, from Me-Mel (Goat Island) to Ta-ra (Dawes Point).
The artwork honours four celebrated women of the Gadigal people, Boorong, Patygerang, Daringa, and Barangaroo, who were all very skilled fisherwomen with their own unique individual stories and contributions.
"The harbour has always been integral to the everyday lives of the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation and it's important we continue to share their stories. It is important will listen," Sampson said.
"It is important to me to share the Eel Dreaming Story of the Gadigal people of how the waterways of Warrane were formed, and how the Gadigal women used those waterways to fish and feed their people. They listened to the harbour, to Mother Earth – we all need to listen."
Sampson said she was "honoured" to see her work on the sails of the Opera House.
"This day brings up a lot of feelings and we need to reflect on that," she said.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the Dawn Reflection was a very appropriate way to start January 26, which can be a conflictual date for many.
"The state of NSW is proud to continue important conversations to recognise the history, culture, excellence and achievements of Aboriginal people, such as the stories of these four women," he said.
Australia Day Council of NSW Chairman Andrew Parker said the Australia Day in Sydney program focused on inclusion, understanding and reconciliation.
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"It is the third year for the Dawn Reflection, and it is a moment to pause and reflect on our country's First Nations history, and the steps we need to take to become a unified country. Amplifying Aboriginal voices allows us to show the authentic connection between our First Nations people and the land on which we all live," Parker said.
Yvonne Weldon, deputy chair of the Australia Day Council of NSW, and deputy chair Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council, said Australia Day was a time to reflect, respect, celebrate and commemorate.
"Every day we walk in our ancestors' footsteps, and as we gather it's important to reflect on our past, commemorate and honour those who have gone before us and our history – and celebrate the survival of our people, our culture and our history," she said.
"When we bring our First Nations voices and share our truth and stories to January 26, we create meaningful discourse and change. The dawn projection offers an opportunity for Australia Day to start with a reflective moment that recognises our First People and celebrates our culture as it is shared on the sails of the culturally significant Sydney Opera House."
A divisive date
The symbolic union of Australia's pre- and post-colonial history is unlikely to defuse the controversy surrounding January 26, with Invasion Day protests set to march in major cities around the country.
Many pubs are also steering clear of Australia Day celebrations – but not all.
And Australians around the country will flock to beaches and parks for celebrations during the public holiday.
New citizens are also set to be welcomed, though some councils have elected to hold their ceremonies on a separate date.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese welcomed the newest Australians.
"In choosing Australia as their home, they are embracing the values and qualities we hold dear: our belief in opportunity for all, the respect we have for hard work, the optimism that drives our aspiration and the Australian instinct for fairness, decency and care and respect for each other," he said.
Albanese also urged Australians to heed the "gracious, patient" call from the Uluru Statement from the Heart to enshrine Indigenous recognition in the Constitution.
"It would be an expression of pride that would also send to the world a message about our maturity and unity as a nation," he said.
"We have so much to celebrate, so much to be proud of."