A respected Wurundjeri elder says she would like to see flags flown at half mast on January 26 to commemorate fallen Aboriginal warriors as the mayors of two Victorian councils stood their ground on cancelling Australia Day.
The City of Darebin Council this week became the latest to scrap Australia Day celebrations after neighbouring Yarra City Council did so last week.
In January, West Australian port city Fremantle announced it was replacing its annual Australia Day fireworks with a free concert two days later.
Wurundjeri elder Annette Xiberras, who is also chair of the Victorian Traditional Owners Land Justice Group, welcomed the move by the Victorian councils.
She said she’d like to see more local governments follow suit — at the very least fallen Aboriginal warriors should be commemorated on January 26.
“If we’re not going to change Australia Day, then at least have the respect to recognise our fallen warriors,” Ms Xiberras said.
“If we’re going to celebrate Australia Day as the day of Australia being discovered when people were already living here, then let’s be respectful about it.
“I’d like to see all councils at least half raise the flag and lay wreaths at the beginning of the day at the foot of their steps and light a fire and do a smoking to cleanse the land of the blood that was shed.”
Ms Xiberras said she would personally like to see Australia Day celebrated on the last day of NAIDOC Week.
She said Australia Day was a sad day for many Aboriginal families.
“Look, the last thing we want is this negative output, but at the end of the day would you ask the Jews to celebrate Hitler’s birthday?” she said.
“The atrocities that happened are really sad.
“I remember as a young girl my grandmother and great grandmother, when there was Australia Day, they used to throw wreaths into the bay, Port Phillip. That’s the older generation.
“I’m 57 and I’m talking about 90- and 110-year-old people if they’d still be alive today. Back then it was very fresh to them.
“I remember stories from my grandmother and my great grandmother, both of whom were born on Coranderrk Aboriginal station. They had to get permits to go to work. If they wanted to move off the mission, they had to get permits to go and visit their family.
“My grandmother talks as a young girl of standing outside the local swimming pool and not being able to go in.
“To me, Australia Day for Aboriginal people is like Anzac Day, not only for the warriors who died for us, but the women and children who were raped, segregation against families, the genocide of my people.
“The genocide to us it was like a holocaust where they nearly killed all of us.”
On Monday, Darebin, which has one of the biggest proportions of Aboriginal residents of the Greater Melbourne council areas, voted for a series of changes including scrapping Australia Day citizenship ceremonies and Australia Day awards.
The awards are to be replaced with the Darebin Community Awards and will be presented on another day.
“January 26 is indelibly tied to the dispossession and subsequent oppression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and our council cannot ignore the exclusion this entails and the impact it has on the health and wellbeing of our Indigenous community,” Darebin Mayor Kim Le Cerf said.
The Yarra council voted to no longer refer to January 26 as Australia Day and to instead hold an Indigenous-themed event on the day.
The Turnbull government responded by stripping both Yarra and Darebin of their capacity to conduct citizenship ceremonies.
Ms Le Cerf said: “It’s ironic that the Prime Minister has said changing the date is a national debate we need to have, yet his government appears to be working to silence it by punishing councils for taking a stand in support of their Indigenous communities.”
Yarra Mayor Amanda Stone said her council’s changes — passed unanimously — followed talks with the local Aboriginal community and feedback from the wider Yarra community.
“The overwhelming sentiment from our Aboriginal community is that January 26 is a date of sadness, trauma and distress,” she said. “They have told us that this is not a day of celebration, but a day of mourning.
“We also commissioned an independent survey of nearly 300 non-Indigenous people in Yarra, which showed strong support for change.”
WHAT YARRA DECIDED:
- That from next year it would hold a small-scale, culturally sensitive event featuring a smoking ceremony on January 26 that acknowledges the loss of culture, language and identity felt by the Aboriginal community.
- That the council would stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day because the date commemorates the British invasion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands and was not an appropriate date for a national celebration.
- To support the #changethedate campaign — which is pushing for the date of Australia day to be changed.
- Organise an event with the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee to celebrate the world’s oldest living culture.
- Hold Darebin Community Awards as part of a community celebration, but not on January 26.
- Introduce new community awards to honour the contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents.