20,000 Sydneysiders rally for black lives

At 4.32pm, protesters knelt and raised a fist to mark the 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody.
At 4.32pm, protesters knelt and raised a fist to mark the 432 Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Nothing was going to stop 20,000 Sydneysiders rallying for Aboriginal rights but an appeal court's last-minute approval certainly helped.

Thousands of people, many wearing masks, were already gathered in front of Sydney Town Hall on Saturday when the Court of Appeal declared the Stop All Black Deaths in Custody rally an authorised public assembly.

The decision, overturning a Supreme Court ruling on Friday night, gave protesters immunity from arrest for blocking roads along the planned route from Town Hall to Belmore Park.

Lawyers for rally organiser Raul Bassi say they believe it is also a "reasonable excuse" to breach the public health orders stopping mass gatherings.

"If we don't die from the (coronavirus) pandemic, then we will die from police brutality," protester Sidique, who has a West African background, told AAP.

Following the march, protesters clashed with police at Central Station.

A short scuffle broke out between officers and protesters as police tried to move forward in an underground section of the station.

At least two officers used pepper spray, with up to 30 people in the firing line.

Footage posted to Twitter by (at)the_larrikin shows protesters facing a line of officers, chanting "no justice, no peace, no racist police" before the officers tell people to keep moving and then walk towards the group.

NSW Police said there were just three arrests in Sydney, which Assistant Commissioner Mick Willing said was a "really positive result".

Demonstrations also took place in Newcastle, Byron Bay, Lismore, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie, Wyong, Wagga Wagga and Broken Hill.

"I have spoken with commanders who have said they are pleased that all their protests were essentially peaceful," Mr Willing said in a statement on Saturday evening.

Bob Jones, 75, said it was worth the risk to rally for change despite NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant saying the event could help spread coronavirus.

"If a society is not worth preserving, then what are you doing? You're perpetuating a nonsense," he told AAP.

A large police contingent, a few wearing masks, provided traffic control and observed the peaceful protest.

"Whether the police want to say it's unjust, whether the government wants to say it's unjust, think of the unjust things they've done to our people," Lugad Omido, 25, said.

"This is what it's here for - for us to trigger a change."

The rally, sparked by the death of US man George Floyd's death in police custody and the wider Black Lives Matter movement, focused on Aboriginal rights and deaths in custody at home.

Some held signs saying "Police the police" and "Same s*** different soil" as the crowd chanted "I can't breathe", the final words uttered repeatedly by Mr Floyd and 26-year-old Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr.

"They held my son down for 10 minutes," Leetona Dungay said of her son's death in Long Bay jail in 2015.

At 4.32pm, when most protesters had reached Belmore Park, they knelt en masse and held a fist aloft to acknowledge the 432 Aboriginal people who have died in custody since 1991.

Desiree Leha, a 27-year-old Birri Gubba woman, said it's "great to see people recognise the unjust that is happening to our people on a daily basis".

"It means so much to us to feel like (we) have so many allies around us talking about this important issue. It's always been swept under the carpet, it's not prioritised in Australia," Ms Leha said as she marched.

When asked why it was important to show up even if the protest had been illegal, Ms Leha said: "We're walking not for today but for our future.

"I'm sick of being dictated (to) by white politicians. They put in injunctions and other legal systems that just do not help with the empowerment of indigenous people, and it's frustrating," she said.

The rally gained approval about 2.45pm, 15 minutes before its scheduled start, after Mr Bassi's lawyers filed an urgent challenge to Supreme Court Justice Desmond Fagan's decision on Friday night.

Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said the reasons for the decision would be published early next week.

Australian Associated Press