The RSL branch in Western Australia (RSLWA) has banned the performance of Welcome to Country and flying the Aboriginal flag at ANZAC and Remembrance Day services.
RSLWA’s controversial new policy states that with the exception of the New Zealand National Anthem, all content must be in English, only the Australian and New Zealand flags are to be flown, and that there will be no Acknowledgment of Country other than by, regal, vice-regal or governmental representatives.
RSLWA is claiming the policy was created as a result of last year’s Fremantle ANZAC Day dawn service, where the ode was performed in Noongar, by respected Elder Professor Len Collard.
Chief Executive Officer of RSLWA, John McCourt, said some RSL members reported the ode being read in another language was inappropriate.
The new policy reasons that the ban will promote inclusivity of all cultures at commemorative ceremonies.
“While it is important to recognise cultural and ethnic contributions to the defence of Australia, it is also important to maintain ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day as occasions to express unity, a time when all Australians — irrespective of race, culture or religion — come together to remember and reflect,” the policy states.
Although unhappy about the RSLWA using his particular ode as reasoning behind the ban, Professor Len Collard said he is “rejoiceful and happy” as it’s time for Indigenous Australians who have fought in many wars to be proud and not let this decision ban Indigenous culture on these days.
“Aboriginal people have been fighting in wars for a long time, from invasion wars to colonial wars, and have a strong history and should be proud,” Professor Collard said.
“[I’m] putting the word out to all the Koori and the [Yamatji] Marlpa and all the native groups [in Australia].”
“This is a call to arms, for all Aboriginal and all Islander people, that they write up the ode in their own native language and stand proudly on their Country … and hold their own ceremonies in their traditional language.”
Contrary to its purpose, the policy has caused major discontent in the Indigenous community.
WA Treasurer and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ben Wyatt, a Yamitji man, expressed his disappointment in RSLWA’s decision via Twitter.
“This is a regrettable and divisive decision by the RSLWA and I suggest they reconsider,” Minister Wyatt tweeted.
“It is worth noting that our New Zealand partners embrace the language of their Indigenous peoples at ANZAC Day ceremonies.”
This is a regrettable and divisive decision by RSLWA and I suggest they reconsider. Immediately.
It is worth noting that our New Zealand partners embrace the language of their Indigenous peoples at ANZAC DAY ceremonies.
We should do the same.
— Ben Wyatt MLA (@benwyatt) February 21, 2020
Brad Petit, Mayor of Fremantle, said Fremantle is an inclusive city and will continue to allow Welcome to Country at their services.
“Our ceremonies have always been very respectful and inclusive, and we will continue to do so,” Petit said.
Not alone in their inclusivity, a combined haka and corroboree were performed by local Indigenous and Māori attendees following the King’s Park dawn service in Perth last year.
By Caris Duncan