Moreland City Council took a big step forward on September 13 when it voted to drop all references to January 26 as Australia Day out of respect for Aboriginal people. But it stopped short of cancelling its official Australia Day citizenship ceremony.
The motion proposed by Deputy Mayor Samantha Ratnam states the council believes it is not an appropriate date for an inclusive national celebration as "January 26 marks the beginning of the British invasion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lands and oppression of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people". Moreland will now host a culturally appropriate event on a date to be agreed upon by the Moreland Reconciliation Working Group.
The council voted 7:4 to:
- acknowledge that January 26 marks the beginning of the British invasion;
- acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people never ceded sovereignty;
- acknowledge that the first Day of Mourning was held on January 26, 1938;
- support the change the date campaign; and
- advocate to the federal government to change the date.
These decisions are in line with the decisions of the Fremantle, Yarra and Darebin councils. Socialist Alliance councillor Sam Wainwright initiated the discussion in Fremantle Council, which led to moves in the Melbourne councils to stop recognising the day.
It also follows moves in various Latin American countries to stop celebrating Columbus Day, which similarly marked the invasion of that continent and the dispossession of its indigenous people.
The Wurundjeri Tribe Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council (Wurundjeri) sent a letter to the council strongly supporting the move. The Wurundjeri also published a statement supporting the motions at Yarra and Darebin councils.
“Yarra City Council, and now Darebin are simply seeking to redefine the significance of January 26 as a day of quiet reflection,” the statement said.
“Why is it so difficult to hold Australia Day on a different date which all people can relate to and equally celebrate? That is all that is being talked about: whether Australia Day should be celebrated on the day that Australia was colonised, or on another day that everyone can relate to and be proud to participate in.”
It is significant to recognise that the continent was invaded by the British and stop recognising the date at the beginning of that invasion as "Australia Day".
What happened to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from that date was a holocaust. Celebrating that date would be like celebrating the Nazi holocaust as Germany Day.
The assistant immigration minister Alex Hawke is quoted in the Australian as saying: “The Turnbull Government strongly condemns comparisons of Australia Day with the Nazi Holocaust, as deeply offensive to all Australians.”
He said the government is considering whether to strip the council of its authority to administer citizenship ceremonies, as it did with Yarra and Darebin Councils last month.
This demonstrates that the federal government is not about free speech and democracy at all. It is trying to bully local councils to fall into line with its propaganda.
It is estimated that there were 750,000 Aboriginal people in Australia in1788 but only 31,000 in 1911. Historical accounts of setting up farms in north Queensland refer to the “clearing of land in order to establish farms”. At first you assume these accounts are referring to the clearing of trees, but in fact they are referring to the clearing of people.
In Tasmania in 1830, Lieutenant-Governor George Arthur ordered thousands of able-bodied settlers to form what became known as the ‘Black Line’, a human chain that crossed the settled districts of Tasmania. The line moved south over many weeks in an attempt to intimidate, capture, displace and relocate the remaining Aboriginal people.
Dja Dja Wurreng Elder Gary Murray told the council meeting Australia Day should be day a Treaty is signed, not the day Australia was invaded.
“Why would Black people, Aboriginal people, celebrate a holocaust,” he said. “Our clans were decimated. Only six languages out of 38 have survived the 135 years of white settlement.
“Let there be no doubt it was genocide. There were 300 clans and now there is only 108 left. Do you want us to celebrate that? I don’t think you would. I don’t think any First Nations people on the globe would want to celebrate that.
"There is no shame in having the courage to make hard decisions. If you want a treaty with the First Peoples in this state, whether it's a state government one, a common government one or a Moreland one, you have to stand up, you have to stand straight and be honest with First Peoples. Don’t bullshit us. Speak the truth to us. If you want a treaty, part of the treaty is to deal with the past, so we can move into the future.”
The only drawback on the night was that a majority of Moreland councillors also voted to keep citizenship ceremonies on January 26. This contradicts the spirit of the motion and is grossly insensitive to the Wurundjeri who will be asked to come and do a Welcome to Country on the day.
There are other dates we should celebrate more than January 26, such as the Eureka Stockade uprising on December 3, 1854, which won many democratic rights, despite its defeat and May 12, 1856 when Melbourne stonemasons became the first workers in the world to win the 8 hour day.
But the only date I think would be suitable is the day that a Treaty is signed with the First Nations people. That would be the only unifying national day.
[Sue Bolton is a Socialist Alliance councillor on Moreland City Council.]