Three years ago the City of Fremantle moved its traditional Australia Day events away from January 26.
The council said it had heard “loud and clear” from local Aboriginal elders that it wasn’t a day to celebrate.
The decision was publicly criticised by the prime minister and the WA premier but Mayor Brad Pettitt says he stands by the move and said that any celebration on January 26 “can’t unite us”.
“There was that sense of ‘we’re doing the right thing here’,” he told NITV’s The Point.
“The truth of the matter is, you never do meaningful change without a bit of push back.”
The council will hold citizenship ceremonies on January 26, at the insistence of the federal government, but festivities will predominantly be held on January 27 at the One Day in Fremantle event.
Indigenous activist Corina Abraham Howard was one of the grassroots campaigners who lobbied the council for change.
“We want to change the date so that we can celebrate together, we want to stand in unity, we want to stand together in solidarity, and understand the true history of this country,” she said.
“Australia Day means to me a day where we come together as one. We come together as all Australian, you know, celebrating, being proud of who we are and where we come from no matter if you’re black, white or brindle.”
But some Indigenous people do not support the decision to not hold events on the national holiday including Robert Isaac, the 2015 West Australian of the Year and 2016 NAIDOC Elder of the Year.
“We know the history but to politicise this whole thing is not a good thing,” he said.
The Noongar elder says the idea that all Indigenous people want to change the date is false.
“Australia Day brings out the best of people,” Dr Isaac said.
“It’s not having a go at anyone and deliberately attacking what happened over 200 years ago with our people.”
Dr Pettitt said that local councils around the country should “have the conversation” about celebrating Australia Day on January 26 not only with local Aboriginal elders but with their broader community.
“It’s gonna change,” he predicted.
“It may take several more years. It may even take another decade… but I think we’re on that journey now as a nation and I think the change is coming.”
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