The rest of Australia should follow the lead of the West Australian port city of Fremantle and scrap Australia Day celebrations, say supporters.
The City of Fremantle announced last Friday that it was replacing its Australia Day fireworks show on January 26 with a free public One Day in Fremantle concert two days later on January 28.
Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettit told www.nit.com.au that the council started looking at what it did on Australia Day after this year’s celebrations and talking with some of the Indigenous participants about how it made them feel.
Australia Day marks the anniversary of the first fleet of convict ships from the UK and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove.
Fremantle’s new One Day festival will feature a line-up of artists including Indigenous singer-songwriters such as Gina Williams and Dan Sultan as well as John Butler.
Noongar elder Richard Walley, who will do the Welcome to Country at the festival, said it was a chance for a fresh start.
He said Australia Day had become divisive with many “Survival” concerts celebrating Indigenous music, dance art and food running side-by-side with Australia Day celebrations.
“What happens now in the events around Australia, you have two lots of celebrations,” he said. “You have the Australia Day celebration with the large fireworks and activities.
“On the side you have the Survival concert. If that’s not a division then there’s a problem.”
Dr Walley said he would like to see other councils around Australia follow Fremantle’s lead.
“It gives us a day where we can all get together and we don’t have to have two concerts,” he said. “That to me takes away the stigma of that date and it makes it inclusive.”
Indigenous singer-songwriter Gina Williams said the Fremantle move was “gutsy”.
She’s been targeted on social media by people protesting the change and even called “unpatriotic”, but she said people could still celebrate with a barbeque or at the beach on January 26 if they wanted to.
“I think once people realise the sky hasn’t fallen there will be other councils that will follow suit,” she said.
Mayor Pettit said he’d heard petitions were being prepared to be presented to some councils on the east coast calling for a similar change.
He said Australia Day was a relatively new celebration and had only been marked since 1994.
Fremantle councillors voted for the change nine votes to one.
“I think it’s a conversation Australia needs to have,” he said. “It’s been bubbling around in the background for some time.
“I think it’s a difficult conversation but I do think it’s time has come. At a local level it’s easier to start at that level because you can talk to your local community, your local elders and put small things in place and hopefully bring the majority of the community with you and what will happen from there is you will see it emerge into a more national response.”
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council lent its support to scrapping Australia Day celebrations, saying changing the date would allow more Australians to feel proud about their national identity.
“Australians need to recognise that January 26 reminds Aboriginal people of the arrival of the First Fleet and the dispossession of our land,” chairman Roy Ah-See said.
But not everyone is a fan of the Fremantle move.
Aboriginal elder Robert Isaacs, a former head of the Australia Day Council and a former West Australian of the Year, said the council’s decision was silly and out of step with most the community.
“It’s not only me against it, it’s the community that hasn’t been properly consulted here,” he told the ABC’s AM program.
“As one individual, as an Aboriginal person, I’ve been on the Australia Day Council for 25 years, as the previous chairman of the council, and all the local governments around WA have had the goodwill of keeping their celebrations on the 26th, including Skyworks, barbecues and all sorts of goodies that go with it.
“For the Fremantle council, that’s not in the spirit of the Australia way to just listen to a small group of people who say just because of history of the past, 200 years, that they should not celebrate.”