Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has met with Indigenous elders for a smoking ceremony as official Australia Day commemorations kick off across the country.
Mr Albanese joined Governor General David Hurley for the private event ahead of the national flag ceremony in Canberra.
Alinta Barlow and the Luminescence Children’s Choir sang the national anthem first in English and then in the local indigenous Ngunnawal language.
It was followed by a 21-gun salute that echoed over Lake Burley Griffin.
“Today, as we gather to celebrate the next chapter in the success story of our great and diverse society, let’s all recognize the unique privilege we have of sharing this continent with the world’s oldest unbroken culture,” said Mr Albanese .
Canberra’s aunt Violet Sheridan used her welcome to the country to call for unity.
“I’m a proud Aboriginal woman from Ngunnawal, but I’m also a proud Australian,” she said.
“I want us to get together.”
Millions of people across the country will mark the 235th anniversary of Captain Arthur Phillip’s landing at Sydney Cove on the holiday through celebration, commemoration or protest.
Governor-General David Hurley said that since that day Australia has become a country to be proud of, a country made stronger by the history, traditions and culture of the indigenous people.
“Our individual identities and stories are intertwined into a modern, diverse nation of people,” he said.
“That should be celebrated. Yes, there are many challenges and yes, we do not agree on everything.
“We work hard, have an eye for each other and are not afraid to take on major challenges.”
More than 19,000 people from more than 140 countries will become Australia’s newest citizens on Australia Day.
Mr Albanese thanked those who accepted citizenship in ceremonies across the country.
“Join our Australian family, join us as proud citizens of the greatest country in the world and join us as partners in the ongoing task of making it even greater,” he said.
Sydney festivities began at dawn with a projection on the Opera House by Kamilaroi wife and artist Rhonda Sampson, recognizing the important role of women around Sydney Cove waters before Captain Phillip arrived in 1788.
It was followed by a smoking ceremony in Barangaroo, held for the 20th year to celebrate the culture and language of the indigenous people.
A traditional ferry race across the harbor follows later on Thursday.
The Andrews government in Victoria has canceled the annual Melbourne street parade, opting to focus on local gatherings.
But there was a 21-gun salute at noon at the Shrine of Remembrance, followed by the RAAF Roulettes city fly-over.
For many people, Australia Day will be business as usual.
Deloitte, KPMG, CSL and other large companies have allowed employees to work on Australia Day and take a day off at another time as part of their flexible cultural leave arrangements.
Invasion Day or Survival Day rallies will be held in all capital cities, providing a visual reminder of opposition to the holiday.
Polls by the conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, suggested that three and a half times more Australians support Australia Day on January 26 than those who oppose it.
But among younger age groups, support is declining. Only 42 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds were in favour, compared to 30 percent against retaining the day.
An annual poll by Roy Morgan asking about naming the date Australia Day or Invasion Day remained relatively stable at a 64-36 split.