“It’s a democratic right to protest,” Ms Nicholson said. “We also had police marching with us and talking with us.
“It was very peaceful and a life-changing event for not only black people but everyone.”
Mr Cornelius noted that although the meeting was unlawful, police were generally pleased with public behaviour.
“As of 5pm, there were no arrests made during the protest and we are not aware of any acts of violence or property damage,” he said.
“Police will continue to investigate the events of today to determine whether any further follow up enforcement activity is required.”
Melbourne rally organisers were resolute in holding the event despite Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, warning just one COVID-19-positive person at the rally could squander the gains made during the virus lockdown. He asked Victorians not to attend the event.
Protesters turned up in the heart of Melbourne in their thousands.
Aboriginal teenager Ky-ya Nicholson Ward told the thousands gathered outside Parliament House on Spring Street it had been a hard week dealing with everything happening in the world, but a video of an Aboriginal boy being slammed facedown to the ground by a NSW policeman was particularly disturbing.
Indigenous people make up 28 per cent of the Australian prison population, 50 per cent of the youth detention population and only three per cent of the overall population, the 17-year-old said.
More than 400 Aboriginal people are known to have died in police custody since 1991.
The Melbourne crowd let out a roar of applause when it heard the NSW Court of Appeal had authorised a simultaneous rally in Sydney, which had earlier been refused approval.
Ms Nicholson said Australians needed to understand that systemic discrimination resulting in police killings of people because of their race was not just happening in the United States, but also in Australia.
“Our young men are saying ‘I can’t breathe’, ‘I can’t breathe’ and they die,” Ms Nicholson said.
The Wurundjeri leaders, whose native land is Melbourne, painted white ochre across their foreheads as a sign of mourning.
“We all bleed red because we are human,” one speaker who addressed the crowd said.
Wakka Wakka woman Naomi Murphy, who came from Traralgon with her 11-year-old daughter Destiny, said police brutality was something she dealt with on a regular basis at her work with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
“I think out of all that’s happened in America, it’s given us a platform to shine a light on what’s happening here, and an opportunity to educate Australia on Aboriginal deaths in custody,” she said.
“This is not new, none of this is new.”
Mia Allen said it was important for her to attend the rally to show she opposes Aboriginal deaths in custody.
“I have a responsibility to use my power and privilege to address racial violence committed by the Australian state,” Ms Allen said.
Teachers Tim and Andrea attended the march with their children Poppy, Daisy and Harry to teach them that change “starts in your own backyard”.
“Australia’s history is not that good and we want to do something about the future,” Amber said.
Tim said he wanted his children to understand they live a privileged life, while many Australians do not.
Ezi Osman, an East African woman, who has lived in Australia for 30 years, was also at the rally with her children. “It’s important for them to know how to stand up for themselves,” said she.
“When they hear something in the news that isn’t fair they know there’s something they can do.”
Social distancing was impossible in the large crowd, as thousands of protesters marched shoulder-to-shoulder from Parliament House on Spring Street, down Bourke Street.
Protesters held signs with slogans such as “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and “tolerating racism is racism”.
CBD resident and protester Sam Ross described the rally as “beautiful, kind, compassionate, caring, peaceful and moving”.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better protest,” the 26-year-old said. “Which is really what we need.”
One COVID-19-positive person at the Saturday afternoon mass gathering could be all it takes to squander the gains made, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warned earlier this week.
Rachael Dexter is a journalist & audio video producer at The Age.
Zach is a reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at email@example.com