A YOUNG woman marching in an 'Invasion Day' protest was knocked unconscious after the previously peaceful protest erupted in to violence when police tried to stop a protester setting an Australian flag on fire.
The woman was pushed to the ground as police arrested a man for allegedly trying light the Australian flag on fire in the middle of the march near the Broadway shopping centre at Redfern in Sydney about 1pm. Several marches have taken place around the country, including Brisbane.
Ben, a protester who witnessed the scuffle at the Sydney march, said police rushed the crowd when they spotted a man laying the flag out on the road.
"The cops rushed in and started spraying a fire extinguisher when they saw a guy spreading an Australian flag out on the ground and to set it on fire," he said.
"The girl was knocked over when the cops tried to arrest a bloke and as they swing him around, they crashed into the girl and she hit the ground.
"They fell over with the girl and her legs were pinned until they realised they were lying on top of her.
"I couldn't believe the force they were using to arrest the guy and try and stop the flag burning. There were six or so cops who just piled into there crowd to stop it."
The man, 20, who allegedly tried to light the flag was arrested and was taken to Redfern police station for questioning.
A NSW Police Force spokeswoman said officers used the fire extinguisher to put out the fire to "ensure the safety of other protesters" but a police officer was injured during the arrest."A brief struggle and feud followed the incident during which an officer was injured. He has been taken to hospital for assessment," the spokeswoman said.
The injured woman, aged in her 20s, was taken to Royal Prince Alfred Hospital to be treated for head injuries.
"There have been no additional reports of injuries and the march has since concluded," the police spokeswoman said.
"This was an isolated incident in an otherwise peaceful demonstration. Overall police were pleased with the behaviour of the crowd."
In Brisbane, between 1000 and 2000 people gathered out the front of Parliament House before marching through the CBD, with protesters told to take their fight for recognition to next year's Commonwealth Games.
At moments throughout the march the tension grew as some protesters taunted police. But the crowd remained peaceful as it made its way up George St, through Adelaide St, across the Victoria Bridge to South Bank and ultimately Musgrave Park. Police described the march as peaceful, with no arrests.
Indigenous activists made speeches to the gathering outside Parliament House, where they told the crowd January 26 marked a sad occasion in indigenous history and was not to be celebrated.
Topics such as deaths in custody, housing, welfare and education were brought up and politicians called to account.
Cherbourg indigenous activist Lionel Fogarty, known as Uncle Lionel, called on the community to unite and protest the upcoming 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, claiming communities in the area had been "bought off".
He said "structural racism" was built into Australia's education system, where "true history is not taught".
He called for aboriginal languages to be taught in schools and criticised prominent indigenous leaders for misrepresenting their people.
Uncle Lionel also urged sports stars like Jonathan Thurston, Anthony Mundine and Greg Inglis to get involved.
"We need to get them out the front with us and show what we're really about, (so Games organisers are) not culturally prostituting our struggle, not culturally prostituting our materials that we have for their bloody corporation," he said.
"We have a right to go down there and protest." Charles Hegarty, an Aboriginal man who has lived in Brisbane his whole life, said he and his family had attended as a show of support for "our people". "Hopefully something comes out of it," he said.
"We need to get our own land back, where we came from."
Indigenous activist Sam Watson said aboriginal people needed to work together to help others, particularly the younger generation, affected by negative issues such as drug use.
"Spend time with young people and pull them back from the dark place they are now," he said.
While at least half of the crown was non-indigenous, the front of the marching column consisted of mostly indigenous protesters.They carried placards, didgeridoos, makeshift spears and clapping sticks, walking through a strong police presence.
Protest leaders used a megaphone and speaker system to lead the various chants: "What's today? Invasion Day", "Change the date", "Always was, always will be aboriginal land", "They say justice, we say murder", "Too many police, not enough justice", "Treaty now", "Too black too strong".
Many people celebrating Australia Day in the CBD and at South Bank were caught up in the protest, which stopped traffic for about half an hour at some points.
A large crowd gathered on the pedestrian bridge above the road between the Queensland Performing Arts Centre and the Queensland Museum certainly experienced a cultural show as the march formed a circle with dancing, didgeridoos and singing.
The crowd reached fever pitch as it went through South Bank, but by the time it reached Musgrave Park for a sausage sizzle and smoking ceremony, the numbers had thinned.