The Dja Dja Wurrung Clans Aboriginal Corporation is encouraging more frank discussions about the history behind Australia Day.
January 26 marks the arrival of the first British fleet to Australia and is considered a day of mourning by some Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
Dja Dja Wurrung Clans chief executive Rodney Carter said January 26 caused a lot of angst in the Indigenous community.
“It’s about the First Peoples getting invaded. The positive opportunity is to acknowledge the truth in history for future generations,” he said.
“We need more of a frank discussion about what we should be celebrating and hopefully that allows a more mature conversation about acknowledging (the history of the day).”
Mr Carter said the Dja Dja Wurrung Clans had been invited to a number of Australia Day events but that he had declined, saying the Clans didn’t see it as a day of celebration.
In his response to invitations Mr Carter wrote to organisations who invited Dja Dja Wurrung Clans explaining why they were unable to participate.
“The Dja Dja Wurrung as a first nations people understand the importance for our communities to celebrate upon many achievements that can give us pride in who we are,” he wrote.
“For us our recent history is a celebration of our survival and the achievements we have made through our Recognition and Settlement Agreement and partnership with the State of Victoria.
“The history of our people and the past effects upon our ancestors when newcomers came to our country was largely a violent and traumatic period.
“The past intrusions are somewhat yet to be better understood and accepted by others and it is part of our vision that future generations will come to now of the truth in our shared history.”
The potential of moving Australia Day events away from January 26 is a conversation the City of Greater Bendigo will have in the future but said it is too late to change this year’s plans.
As Australia Day approaches, some councils around the country (including three in Melbourne) have made plans to move or cancel their usual community celebrations held on January 26.
City of the Greater Bendigo acting chief executive Vicky Mason said it was too late to change any plans for this year’s Australia Day but that the idea of shifting community events away from Australia Day has come up with staff.
“It has come up more in conversations with staff more than councillors at this stage. But it is something we will have to have a conversation with councillors about,” she said.
“While at this stage our Australia Day plans won’t change, we recognise the impact and acknowledge that some people don’t feel good about Australia Day.
Ms Mason said council follows Reconciliation Victoria’s position statement on January 26 which encourages national conversation about shifting Australia’s national day away from January 26.
It also encourages councils and organisations to recognise the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in the nation’s history and to be sensitive to the feelings of Aboriginal people who may see the day as one of mourning.
We want to make a difference in helping people understand the issues in the Indigenous community.- City of Greater Bendigo acting CEO Vicky Mason
“The wider reconciliation conversation is more important and Bendigo is trying hard in that space by building strong relationships with the Dja Dja Wurrung and other Indigenous members of community,” Ms Mason said.
“As well as symbolic (aspects), we want to make a difference in helping people understand the issues in the Indigenous community.”
Bendigo District Aboriginal Co-operative chief executive Raylene Harradine said would welcome being a part of conversations about potentially moving future events away from Australia Day.
“We have community forums and topics but (changing Australia Day) hasn’t been on our radar,” she said. “When we do get around to having those conversations it has to be led in a way that isn't destructive. It needs to be led in a way where people feel safe to have opinion.
“You can't just force views. For me to consider anything, I need to be truly informed. You can’t just cant make decision and without thinking what it means for everyone involved. It’s about what works for the whole community.”
Mount Alexander Shire mayor Bronwen Machin said moving events away from January 26 had not been discussed by councillors but that council has been working with Indigenous representatives on Australia Day events.
“We have the Indigenous round table that I co-chair with Uncle Rick and regularly ask how Australia Day plans are going,” she said.
“They’re not asking for a change of date but we know it is an extreme act of generosity by Indigenous people (to take part in Australia Day).
“It’s done with continuous conversation and we acknowledge that it’s a bloody hard day. It’s a day of celebration and an acknowledgement of sorrow.”
Central Goldfields Shire, Campaspe Shire and Buloke Shire have no plans to change their Australia Day events.
“It has not been raised by any of our councillors,” Buloke Shire CEO Anthony Judd said.
“We are trying to work with Indigenous groups through the year and over the past 12 to 18 months have stepped up our engagement with registered Indigenous parties and traditional owners.”