• The Aboriginal flag flying at Fort Scratchley. (Supplied: Newcastle City Council.)Source: Supplied: Newcastle City Council.
The Aboriginal flag has been raised for the first time at Newcastle's Fort Scratchley War Memorial.
Keira Jenkins

11 Nov 2020 - 5:11 PM  UPDATED 11 Nov 2020 - 5:11 PM

When Brett Johnson visited the Fort Scratchley War Memorial at Newcastle a few weeks ago he was disheartened that he couldn’t find anything he thought acknowledged the Aboriginal people of the area.

Mr Johnson’s five-year-old daughter, Isla, asked why the Aboriginal flag wasn’t being flown next to the Australian flag.

This set Mr Johnson on a mission to get the Aboriginal flag flying above the fort, a process that included working with the fort's own museum and local council to get the red, black and yellow hoisted up the pole in time for NAIDOC Week.

On Wednesday, Remembrance Day and the middle of NAIDOC Week, the Aboriginal flag flew proudly for the first time above Fort Scratchley.

“I was so proud,” said Mr Johnson, a Gooreng Gooreng and Kabbi Kabbi man who has lived in the Newcastle area for 30 years.

“Now any Aboriginal person who can see the flag this week will look up and feel pride.

“I honestly thought it was going to be hard - I was prepared for demonstrations and things - but the council reacted so quickly and made it happen.

“It was just the right thing to do.”

Mr Johnson said five-year-old Isla was also feeling the pride.

“I said to her ‘look at what we did’,” he told NITV News.

“Awabakal Elder Bill Smith even let her put her hands on the rope as the flag was going up. I think it’s something she’ll never forget.”

Mr Johnson said he hopes to see the flag fly permanently at the war memorial, not just during NAIDOC Week.

No flags in the Senate

As the Aboriginal flag flies for the first time over Fort Scratchley, on Tuesday the federal Senate voted against a motion to hang the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags in the upper house.

The motion was moved by Labor’s Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy and Greens’ Senator Lidia Thorpe. It was opposed 29 to 28.

Speaking to NITV’s Big Mob Brekky, the Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said the debate around flying the flag in the Senate had detracted from the celebrations of NAIDOC Week.

“I'd rather see the flags flying out the front here where the public see them, because in the chamber, people don't notice the flags,” he said.

“They're outside the parliament. I want Australians to see our flag flying on the poles that we currently have them flying on where we have the Torres Strait Islander, Aboriginal and the Australian flag. 

“The Senate is the state's body under the Constitution and all senators represent their state. So that's why the federation flags are hanging in there representing the Federation of Australia.”

Minister Wyatt said this debate instead should be focused on other, weightier issues, like quality of life, instead of the "symbolism" of flying the flag in the upper house.

“There are many issues on Indigenous affairs that my colleagues have supported,” he said.

“Now, this issue of just on the flag should not detract from what we're trying to achieve for the voice, for ultimately constitutional recognition and truth telling, which is what we've been committed to. 

“It's how we do it. That's what's important.”

‘Mean spirited’: Senate blocks motion to fly Indigenous flags
Labor senators Malarndirri McCarthy and Patrick Dodson and Greens senator Lidia Thorpe put forward a motion to fly the flags in the upper house during NAIDOC Week.