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Why is Darebin City Council opposed to marking 26 January?
In addition to providing important services like rubbish and roads maintenance, councils are responsible for protecting the health and wellbeing of their communities. Darebin Council is opposed to Australia's national celebration being held on 26 January out of respect for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have told us that they experience a day of sadness, pain and disconnection. Australia Day, and its history, is complex for many Australians, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. 26 January commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the planting of the Union Flag on Gadigal Country (in Port Jackson). For the Wurundjeri and the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, this marks the beginning of invasion and dispossession. Celebratory events held on this anniversary only intensify the sadness, pain and disconnection experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. There is growing national debate on the relevance and significance of Australia Day celebrations, specifically concerning the date 26 January. At the most recent Australian Local Government Congress, the following motion was carried (64-62 in favour):
That the National General Assembly encourage Australian councils to consider efforts they could take to lobby the Federal Government to change the date of recognition of Australia Day.
This national debate has highlighted the complexities and emotional responses to Australia Day. Importantly, it has created a discourse about how Darebin can take a leadership role and make Australia Day an inclusive one for all that brings people together in the spirit of respect and recognition at the local level. To have a truly inclusive national celebration we need to find a day which includes, honours and celebrates the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have inhabited this land for 60,000 plus years prior to European settlement.
What did Council base this decision on?
Celebrations held on 26 January are known to have a disproportionately negative impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, many of whom experience the day as a sad and painful day. This is why this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with links to Darebin were the target of the consultation. To gather broader community sentiment, we also opted to survey non-Aboriginal people through our 27 advisory committees. Our decision was based on this information, a general knowledge of our community through a range of Council networks, and the visible groundswell of support for change demonstrated by the estimated 50,000 Melburnians – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – who took to the streets on 26 January earlier this year.
Who did Council consult with?
We have a longstanding relationship with our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and 26 January has been a topic of discussion with the community for many years. Consultation included a roundtable discussion with the Darebin Aboriginal Advisory Committee and engagement with community leaders through an online survey. The community engagement process also utilised Council's extensive and diverse network of Council's 27 advisory committees. We also consulted with the Wurundjeri Land and Compensation Cultural Heritage Council Aboriginal Corporation.
What were the results of the community consultations?
The results of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community consultation showed that this community found Australia Day celebrations alienating, hurtful and upsetting – an anniversary that marks the beginning of invasion and dispossession. A strong theme to emerge from the consultation was the need for increased promotion of history and increased recognition of Aboriginal peoples – to foster greater compassion, acceptance and understanding in the community. The results of the survey indicate a strong level of community support for Council taking a more active role in acknowledging the experience of 26 January for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including specifically a strong level of support for Council supporting the #changethedate campaign.
- 86% supported #changethedate campaign (86% favourable)
- Preference for a citizenship ceremony to be held on a different day (60% favourable)
- Support for an event that acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences of 26 January (61% favourable).
Does this mean that Darebin City Council is anti-Australia Day?
We are not anti-Australia Day, nor opposed to the celebration of national identity. We are opposed to celebrating our national identity on 26 January, a day which causes such great distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Will the Mayor, Councillors and staff of Darebin City Council still take a public holiday on 26 January?
As elected representatives, the Mayor and Councillors work every day for the Darebin community, including public holidays. 26 January remains a national public holiday, and Council's customer services centres and libraries will be closed. However, household rubbish and recycling collections will take place as normal. Our leisure centres will also open (but may have amended timetables).
Will I lose my public holiday on 26 January?
No, we do not want to take away the 26 January public holiday. Council is simply looking for more culturally respectful ways to mark 26 January.
Why doesn't Council stick to 'rates, roads and rubbish'?
We have a responsibility to advocate on behalf of our community, as well as deliver a range of essential services. Since the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic) was passed 30 years ago, the role of local councils has grown to do more for local communities, including "advocating the interests of the local community to other communities and governments". Our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community has told us that 26 January celebrations have a significant negative impact on their health and wellbeing. As a Council, we have a legislative responsibility to show leadership and advocate on their behalf. As important as our advocacy work is, we are equally committed to delivering a vast range of services and programs.
This is a Federal Government issue, why is Darebin Council getting involved?
We are getting involved because this is a local issue as much as it is a national one. The way we mark 26 January has a significant negative impact on our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. We have a long-standing and collaborative relationship with our local Aboriginal community, and are proud to be a leader on Aboriginal issues within the Local Government sector. Darebin also has a long-standing link to this issue through Aboriginal Elders Bill Onus, Jack Patten, Margaret Tucker and Pastor Douglas Nicholls who were part of the 'Day of Mourning' protest in Sydney on 26 January in 1938. All of these Elders would go on to play strong leadership roles in Darebin's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.
26 January is our national day of celebration – why should the date be changed?
The date should be changed so it can be a celebration that includes all Australians – especially First Australians. Australia Day only became a national public holiday celebrated by all states and territories in 1994.
Will Darebin City Council be cancelling Australia Day celebrations?
No. Council does not hold national celebrations on 26 January.
In August 2017, Darebin Council decided not to hold a citizenship ceremony on 26 January and instead to move it to another date in the year out of respect for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. Councils hold multiple citizenship ceremonies throughout the year and are not required to host one on 26 January however the Federal Government has revoked our right to preside over citizenship ceremonies in our local community.
Can Darebin residents still celebrate 26 January?
The Darebin community is welcome to celebrate on 26 January in any way they choose. We encourage people to reflect about what this date really means in the history of our nation and its effect on our Aboriginal community.
How your 26 January event can be more inclusive
If you would like to take part in an inclusive activity on 26 January that respects and recognises Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, here is a list of events and activities for you to consider.
Share the Spirit Festival
A family-friendly free festival with music, singing, dancing, and great food.
Where: Treasury Gardens, 2-18 Spring Street, Melbourne
Time: 12pm – 6pm
More information: facebook.com/sharethespiritfestival
Invasion/Survival Day March
Where: Parliament Gardens, Spring Street, Melbourne (assemble at Pastor Douglas and Gladys Nicholls statue)
Time: 10am onwards
Belgrave Survival Day event
A family-friendly free festival with with music, stalls, children's activities and food. The headline act is Gawurra Gaykamangu, a Yolngu professional performing artist from Milingimbi (Yurrwi), North East Arnhem Land.
Where: Corner of Benson Street and Blair Road, Belgrave
Time: 12pm – 5pm
More information: facebook.com
There are lots of different organisations out there promoting conversation about what 26 January means, and offering ideas about activities for the day. Here’s a sample of ideas and links:
- Listen to 3KND radio's Too Deadly January 26 Australian music special - 24 hours of Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Mainstream music.
- Write something on social media about what January 26 means to you. Why are you marking it the way you are? What are your hopes for the future? Search these hashtags on social media for ideas and inspiration #ADateForAll #ChangeTheDate #SharedDreaming #OneMob #BigCountryBigHistory #AlwaysWasAlwaysWillBe
- Have a conversation with friends, family members about what 26 January means to you – what does it actually celebrate and does it reflect who we are as a nation? Australians Together offers some interesting thought starters.
- Change it Ourselves offers suggestions for people wanting to talk to their employer about working on Australia Day instead of taking the day as a holiday.
- Read an Acknowledgement of Country statement to family, friends or loved ones during a quiet moment or before a meal on 26 January.
- Help us find a simple, inspiring phrase to help mainstream Australia get behind the push to change the date. Take a minute to read through our suggestions, add your own, and vote on your preferred phrase.
Register your support for the following campaigns