Inner West Council proposes a review of the Marrickville community festival. Photo: Inner West Council

Posted by & filed under Featured Inner West Independent, Inner West Independent.

By Sarah McLenaghan

Inner West Council will consider changing the way it marks Australia Day after passing a Mayoral Minute at last Tuesday’s council meeting.

The Mayoral Minute recommended a review of the entire Australia Day events program, incorporating consultation with the local Aboriginal community.

Independent Councillor, Pauline Lockie said: “I was happy to support Council finally consulting with our community, and particularly with our Aboriginal community, about how we can reframe any events we hold in future on 26 January.”

“This was what people overwhelmingly told me they wanted when I asked for feedback prior to the first time Council debated this issue in February, and I want to see this process happen in time to make any necessary changes to our 2020 event.”

Currently, the Inner West celebrates Australia Day with the Marrickville Community Festival which is a picnic-style family event in Enmore Park held in the afternoon.

There is a headline band, local entertainment, food stalls and vans, community stalls and free activities for children.

The event incorporates a Citizenship Ceremony and the announcement of the Citizen, Senior Citizen and Young Citizens of The Year.

The review will be the second time this year Council has discussed changing its Australia Day celebrations.

In February, the Inner West became the first Council in Sydney to debate a proposal by the Greens to end local government Australia Day celebrations and to change the date from January 26 to a day without as many painful associations for the indigenous community.

Greens Councillor Tom Kiat said: “This [motion] comes around 9 months after he [Mayor] and other Labor Councillors voted down my proposal that we listen to the very clear call from First Nations communities that we do not celebrate Australia Day on January 26, due to its association with the invasion of sovereign indigenous lands.”

The February proposal was ultimately rejected by Council after what Cr Kiat described as strong opposition from far right nationalist groups.

“There is a very small minority of far right nationalists in this country that believe moving Australia Day off January 26 is an attack on Australian identity. This shows how small-minded their view of Australian identity is.

“However, surveys have shown most people don’t care what day of the year it is on, and the overwhelming majority who take the time to listen to indigenous voices on this issue know that changing the date is the right thing to do.”

The proposal considered by Council last Tuesday did not address the issue of changing the date of Australia Day. Rather it expressed Council’s concern with how current Australia Day events could better incorporate an indigenous perspective.

“While it is a step in the right direction, I think the Mayor’s proposal, and Council’s current position, has failed to recognise that First Nations leaders and communities have already spoken with a clear voice on this issue,” said Cr Kiat.

Cr Kiat said he would prefer to listen to the indigenous voices asking Councils to stop celebrating Australia Day events on January 26.

“Gadigal and Wangal land always was, always will be, Aboriginal land. Non-Aboriginal politicians like me need to stand with and listen to Aboriginal leaders in their struggle for justice and self-determination.”

These views are shared by the Addison Road Community Centre Organisation (ARCCO) which provides a space for use by the local Aboriginal population for community consultations, conversations and celebrations.

Rosanna Barbero, CEO of ARCCO, said: “Addi Road recognises that the 26th of January is a day of mourning for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

“We stand in solidarity with First Nations people in their ongoing struggle for rights, recognition and respect – including the campaign to change the date.”

A clause which suggested that Council “Commit to continuing to hold appropriate and respectful Citizenship Ceremonies on 26 January” was removed from the original Mayoral Minute after intervention by other Councillors.

According to Pauline Lockie: “I was deeply uncomfortable with the Mayor’s attempt to commit Council to holding citizenship ceremonies on 26 January before any consultation around this occurred, which is why I asked him to remove this clause from the motion. To his credit, he agreed.”

Cr Lockie shared her view on how the Inner West Council should commemorate Australia Day: “My personal opinion is that we should observe the date in some way, but it shouldn’t be a celebration. But first and foremost, I want this decision to be led by our Aboriginal community, and for Council and Councillors to engage in the consultation that will be needed to ensure any event we hold on 26 January is truly respectful and inclusive.”

Inner West Council’s deliberations will act as a starting point for a broader discussion of the need for Aboriginal leadership to guide the way the nation commemorates its history.

Ms Barbero says there is still a long way to go in appropriately recognising indigenous perspectives: “As a community we must do so much more to listen to the stories of First Nations people and make amends for the injustices and crimes perpetrated against them on their land.”