by JOHN MOYLE
Whoo hoo! Australia Day has passed and Aussies did what they love best: party, party, party!
But was not the case for many of Australia’s First Nations people who regard the 26th January as the “Day of Mourning.”
Besides the orgy of beer, prawns and general skylarking, 26th of January is also a day when many new arrivals are sworn in as Australian citizens.
These ceremonies are held nationwide by local councils and have recently become a point of contention between the Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, local councils and the Aboriginal community.
Peter Dutton has threatened to remove the right to conduct citizenship ceremonies from councils who do not uphold traditional Australia Day ceremonies.
Late last year the Inner West Council decided to drop Australia Day celebrations with Mayor Darcy Byrne saying that it was “the right thing to do,” with the focus now on the Aboriginal Yabun festival held at Victoria Park, Camperdown – to which Byrne authorised sponsorship of $30,000.
However, the Inner West Council (IWC) will still preside over citizenship ceremonies on 26 Jan.
“Not good enough,” said one Inner West councilor, who wants the council to take their stance further.
“For Inner West residents who have followed their Council’s Australia Day debate, it has taken two years to settle the politics and differences and to get to a starting point,” John Stamolis, the Independent councillor said.
“Council’s internal research says that people are opposed to celebrations, citizen of the year award and the citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day.”
In 2018 The Greens put up a motion to remove IWC’s Australia Day event, which was voted down by Liberal and Labor councillors. Independent councillor Pauline Lockie, who supported the motion, said the issues had been “caught up in the politics of how far that change should go.”
To date only four councils have tested the wrath of the Home Affairs minister and made plans to ditch the traditional 26 Jan celebrations.
They are Darebin Yarra and Moreland in Victoria, Fremantle in Western Australia, and Byron Bay.
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In October Prime Minister Scott Morrison let loose about Byron Bay’s plans on Facebook saying “Indulgent self-loathing does not make Australia stronger, we should not rewrite our history.”
Peter Dutton issued a stronger threat to wayward councils when in Nov he said, “We’re not going to have that disrupted by this nonsense… the rules are pretty clear, if they’re not going to abide by it, then they will find themselves without the ability to conduct the (citizenship) ceremony.”
Cr Stamolis was also critical that IWC covered the meeting without Aboriginal input.
“At the Council meeting, Councillors entered the Chamber ready to debate this very important issue without having contact from key Aboriginal bodies,” Cr Stamolis said. “It was only at the last minute, during the Council meeting, that a letter from Reconciliation Australia arrived.”
Reconciliation Australia is an independent organisation and the peak body working with Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians towards reconciliation in Australia.
In a statement of support of the IWC’s stand, the organisation said “We encourage local governments, organisations and community groups to approach January 26th respectfully.”
The statement continued: “Such a conversation would help us reflect on who we are as a nation, what we stand for, and what date in our history best reflects this values and attributes.”
Nathan Moran is the chief executive officer of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council which covers the Sydney areas from the inner west, to Lane Cove and Pittwater. The land council was the first in Australia and was established to fight for national land rights and to recognise 26 Jan as the Day of Mourning.
“We coined January 26th a Day of Mourning back in 1938 at the first Congress of Aboriginals and it remains a day of mourning for our people,” Mr Moran said.
“Invasion Day is another term used by our people in the 60s and 70s and Survival Day is another alternative name.
“For us it is the day our lands were invaded, the first ever massacres occurred and the first ever poisonings and we believe that there are other more preferable days when Australia could celebrate its uniqueness.”
This is a view supported by Mayor Byrne when he said in a statement: “For Aboriginal people the date represents the beginning of colonisation, dispossession, the removal of children and the deliberate destruction of language and culture”.
In 2017 Triple J Radio moved their Hottest 100 countdown to take place a day after Australia Day, after a survey showed that the majority of listeners supported a change of date.
On 26 Jan the IWC, Reconciliation Australia, and Nathan Moran encouraged all who support the recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to attend the Yabun Festival in Victoria Park, Camperdown, which featured Dan Sultan, Shellie Morris and Buddy Knox on the main stage.
Cr Stamolis added: “I agree that Yabun is an exceptional event but the Inner West should also be able to do something rather than just rely on events sponsored by City of Sydney.
For City Hub’s previous coverage of Australia Day: https://cityhubsydney.com.au/?s=australia+Day