• A Melbourne Council Will Vote To Stop Referring To Jan 26 As Australia Day (SBS)Source: SBS
Why would Aboriginal people want to celebrate a day that represents the end of their culture?
Laura Morelli

15 Aug 2017 - 3:06 PM  UPDATED 15 Aug 2017 - 3:06 PM

A Melbourne council is under pressure from the federal government to drop its bid to become the first in the country to stop holding citizenship ceremonies on January 26 as part of a push to find a new date for Australia Day.

Yarra City councillors are due to vote on Tuesday night on a series of measures that would see the council stop referring to January 26 as Australia Day from 2018 and end its tradition of holding citizenship ceremonies on that date.

Wurundjeri Elder, Colin Hunter jr says this conversation has been happening for years now and that the major focus has always been about educaiton. 

"From a communities perspective, Aboriginal community wanted to make sure this was a gradual process with a huge educational purpose backing it up," he explained.

"For the wider community, a lot of people don’t know the history, or are too ashamed to talk about it, but it’s not about that, it’s about moving forward. This country should be so proud of their Indigenous heritage."

"We all know it's not an easy history to take in, but it must be acknowledged."

Mr Hunter is shocked at some of the comments shared around social media platforms and believes that knowledge can only empower a community to be more productive and supportive.

"I've seen all sorts of things online, 'why should this generation pay for the sins of our past generation' and even 'thanking' Cook for bringing 'civilisation.' But saying the Aboriginal culture is unsophisticated just shows how uneducated people are," he explained.

"Several people don’t feel safe travelling around Melbourne on Jan 26 in the spirit colours...Why would Aboriginal people want to celebrate a day that represents the end of their culture?"

The Wurundjeri Elder who is in his fifties has grown up in Melbourne his entire life and he recalls the moment he discovered the truth about Australia's black past and what Jan 26 really represents.

"What hit home for me was when I became of age to read and write, so I discovered what really happened to our people. History is a really funny thing, it’s told from the perspective of the coloniser really, but that's not right," he said.

"South Africa went through that truth and reconcialiton process, but Australia's only gone through the reconciliation, not the truth yet. We all know it's not an easy history to take in, but it must be acknowledged."

Mayor Amanda Stone says if the councillors approve the plans, Yarra City would be the first council in Australia to abandon holding citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day.

The move has outraged Assistant Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Alex Hawke, who has fired off a letter to councils across the country warning they could be banned from hosting any more citizenship ceremonies if they stop holding them on Australia Day.

"Local councils are now on notice that if they politicise Australian citizenship, the government will see it as a breach of the (Australian Citizenship Ceremonies) code and take the appropriate action," he said.

But Ms Stone said she can't find any requirement in the code for councils to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day.

"The code actually says you shouldn't use a ceremony to promote a political agenda or a religious agenda or commercial agenda," she told AAP.

"We wouldn't be intending to do that. We are simply considering changing when we hold our first citizenship ceremony of the year."

Yarra City holds citizenship ceremonies every two months and Mr Hunter believes another date would suit.

"Jan 26 is just one day we hold these citizenship ceremonies, also on Jan 26 we hold the community awards but we think it will be much more appropriate to hold this on volunteer day." 

Huge protests by indigenous Australians and their supporters were held on Australia Day this year amid growing calls to find a new date for Australia Day. However, the government does not support the push for change.

"Take your shoes off and put mine on. Walk in my footpath, see the lens from an Aboriginal perspective and then you may be able to get a different context behind it." 

A report prepared for Yarra City councillors said consultations with its local Aboriginal community revealed most regard January 26 as a "painful and alienating day" because it marks the arrival of the First Fleet from England.

Last year Mr Hunter recalls what he did on January 26, in fact he can't imagine ever doing anything different on that particular day.

"I was sitting at home. I used to sometimes go to the spirit festival but it’s too in your face for an Aboriginal person to go out in public on that day. There are too many people celebrating the day that, as an Aboriginal person, is just not worth celebrating."

The council meeting is due to take place from 6pm Tuesday and Mr Hunter says it must be a community approach, standing with and standing by Aboriginal people.

"We don't want to put any members of the community, especially the Aboriginal community, in the firing line," he said.

"People say get over it because it was 200 years ago, but that’s not true. It’s affected my ancestors, my grandparents, my parents. Intergenerational trauma is still prevalent and will continue to impact Australians if we don't solve the issue." 

Instead he requests one thing from all people.

"Take your shoes off and put mine on. Walk in the footpath that I walk through, see the lens from an Aboriginal perspective and then you may be able to get a different context behind it." 

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With AAP