BY SATHSARA RADALIYAGODA
Sydneysiders have called out the government for whitewashing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
A group of campaigners are demanding that the Aboriginal Flag is flown 365 days a year atop the structural icon, alongside the NSW and national Australian flags, which are already permanent fixtures.
Cheere Toka heads a petition entitled “Fly the Aboriginal Flag atop of the Sydney Harbour Bridge permanently”, and has so far gathered almost 40,000 signatures asking that the indigenous flag is added.
Currently, the only times the Aboriginal Flag is displayed is during Reconciliation week, National Aboriginal & Islanders’ Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week, and on the anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to the Stolen Generations.
Alana Mazza, a local supporter of the group, said Australia’s racist history was to blame for the appalling omission.
“Australia has had a tendency to sweep its horrendous history of massacres and the stolen generations under the carpet. There’s a sense of both shame and denial, and I think these are two reasons why the flag is not atop the bridge,” she said.
“It’s important as it would be a huge symbol of recognition of elders past and present, but also that this is and always will be Aboriginal land,” Ms Mazza added.
MP Linda Burney, the first Aboriginal woman to serve in the House of Representatives, says displaying the flag is vital for the unity between modern and ancient Australia.
“It’s not an act of defiance…that would be ridiculous, it’s an act of unity and also an act of reminding people that this is a very ancient country and has first peoples that are the traditional owners,” she said.
However, Ms Burney said simply giving the indigenous flag more exposure would be satisfactory at this stage.
“I’m not saying it should be there permanently, but I think it should be flying more than what it does at the moment,” she added.
The Aboriginal Flag flies permanently atop the Australian Parliament House and is displayed in many schools, leaving the Harbour Bridge as an embarrassing oversight.
Scott Haywood, a spokesperson from the Sydney Region Aboriginal Corporation, believes that having the Aboriginal Flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge is symbolic of the rights, recognition and entitlements of the Aboriginal community.
“It will let people know that we were here first and that we’re still here and we still have a say about what’s happening. I think it matters because being recognised, even by something like a flag on a bridge is very important, and the more people that know it’s there and why it’s there the better it is for everyone,” he said.
However, Ms Burney says that Australia is home to two significant indigenous groups, the Aboriginal community and the Torres Strait Island community who have a separate flag.
“I also think it’s really important to recognise that there are two indigenous groups in Australia. The Torres Strait Aboriginals have a very beautiful and separate flag that represents them, it’s really important to recognise that,” she said.
On the 28th of July, MP Melinda Pavey responded to the petition, highlighting that the Aboriginal flag is only flown periodically. The petition has now been referred to the Department of Premier and Cabinet who manage the “Protocols regarding flags flying on the Sydney Harbour Bridge”, and is still awaiting a response.