AMID the dry heat of the day, a deafening cacophony of cicadas rings out across the bush.
Crouched at the base of Tamworth's scar trees, an almost sweet-smelling smoke drifts through Len Waters' hands as he asks the old people for a blessing in Kamilaroi, his native tongue.
The smoking ceremony welcomes us to the land, one Mr Waters' people have called home since time immemorial.
In a measured tone, he asks what's so important about the date of January 26, Australia Day.
"Why is that date so important for one man? It's only about one fella and his journey across the sea," he said.
"I grew up on a mission and time and dates were of no consequence, it was the way our people lived.
"To a lot of other people it is really sad, and when you look at the history of settlement in this country there are a lot of sad tales.
"The celebration of Australia Day is very fractured, it's not as though everyone celebrates it as a nation."
In 1788, Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney Cove and founded a settler colony in NSW on January 26.
That's one side of history's story.
As long as we're moving forward it doesn't matter how long it takes to get there.Len Waters
Public debate about the date of Australia Day has intensified in recent years, as for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, January 26 marks a day of dispossession and the start of decades of suffering.
It's time to change the narrative, and it is changing, Mr Waters said.
"All through history that's all it's ever been about, it hasn't been about the original inhabitants of this particular land or anybody else who's come since," he said.
"As long as we're moving forward it doesn't matter how long it takes to get there.
"No matter how bad Australia's history has been, the amazing thing about it is that all the bad stuff has been documented; every single bit of what Australia did as an emerging country.
"It's out there for everybody to read. It's everybody's responsibility."
Attitudes are changing, and it's reflected in the data.
Essential Media has undertaken yearly polls since 2015, which show there has been a steady decline in people celebrating Australia Day.
In 2019 that number was 40 per cent of more than 1000 people surveyed.
In 2020, it dropped to 34 per cent. This year, it's 29.
Cricket Australia has announced it will drop reference to the term 'Australia Day' from three Big Bash League games this year, with three teams to wear Indigenous jerseys.
Some local councils have already taken a stand and moved the date; including Yarra City in Victoria, Sydney's Inner West Council, Fremantle in Western Australia and two Tasmanian councils.
It could be some time before Tamworth Regional Council (TRC) joins that list, mayor Col Murray said Australia Day is a time to reflect on where the country is today and recognise the contributions of First Nations people.
"I'm not comfortable with changing the date, I don't believe that's justifiable for me and I have fairly firm views on that," he said.
"I don't subscribe to the theory that Australia Day meant the start of Australia, I think it's about something that's significantly changed in Australia and I think it can be a celebration for Aboriginal people also - there's reason for Aboriginal people to participate."
For Cr Murray, Australia Day is a time to reflect on the country's beginnings and the innovations since.
"We are a nation that's independent and freedom is of really high value, we have a strong democracy, rights to freedom of speech and a strong culture of law-abidance," he said.
"Australia is a good place to live where you can consider yourself safe."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended Australia Day to mainstream media last week, arguing the arrival of European settlers "also wasn't a particularly flash day" for convicts on board.
"I think what that day demonstrates is how far we have come as a country and I think that's why it's important that we mark it in that way," he said.
"It's not about that day so much, it's about how far we've come together since that day.
"You can't just airbrush things that have happened in the past, I think one of the great things about Australia and I think we're respected for this, is we're pretty upfront and honest about our past.
"The national apologies that have been put in place show that we are prepared to deal with our past but more importantly we don't allow it to get in the way of our future."
In Tamworth, Mr Waters thinks the attitudes towards Australia Day and its impacts on some Aboriginal people are changing.
The community wants to learn more, and while Aboriginal culture should be shared, Mr Waters said it's not something the public can dip in and out of.
"People are coming to hear about the magic of our culture and that's an incredible thing," he said.
"This town in particular is one that's bursting at the seams in showing its support for Aboriginal culture - they might not all be ready to change the date, but already they're thinking about it."
TRC will host an Australia Day concert in Bicentennial Park from 6pm, with citizenship ceremonies throughout the day.