Thousands of people took part in Invasion Day rallies to protest against Australia Day, the celebration of the start of white colonisation and persecution of Aboriginal Australians 230 years ago.

Australia Day Invasion Day
Indigenous activist, Adrian Burragubba poses for a portrait after an Invasion Day rally in Sydney Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

The date, 26 January, marks the anniversary of the first British settlers landing in Sydney Cove, New South Wales, in 1788, but for indigenous Australians, the date means the start of oppression, including dozens of massacres throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

More than 25,000 people, Aboriginal and white, joined a demonstration in Melbourne, Australia's second biggest city, organisers said, marching up to State Parliament House chanting "always was, always will be Aboriginal land".

There are about 700,000 Aborigines in a population of 23 million in Australia, whose descendants date back about 50,000 years before British colonisers arrived. Protesters called for a treaty between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, recognition in the constitution, and an end to inequality. Protesters want the date of Australia Day to be changed, or abolished altogether.

At least 3,000 protested in Sydney, with rallies also held in Hobart, Adelaide and other cities. In Sydney, the day began with a traditional indigenous smoking ceremony, as crowds gathered around the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge and Opera House.

Debate has raged for years about whether to change the date of Australia Day. Many Australians also change the national flag, which includes the Union Jack. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ruled out a change of flag. "That's the one they have on their backpacks when they're traveling overseas, that's the flag that our soldiers have on their shoulder patches, that is our flag," he told reporters.