Harriet Alexander, Sydney Morning Herald, November 5, 2019
Australia Day celebrations in Sydney’s inner west are set to be scrapped in favour of the Aboriginal festival Yabun under a council proposal aimed at a “more respectful” approach to the national holiday.
The Inner West Council will next week vote on a motion to move celebration events from January 26, following an edict from Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton that councils that refuse to hold citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day will be stripped of the right to hold them altogether. Citizenship ceremonies will continue.
Council sought feedback after the 2019 event and 37 people – “19 per cent” of whom identified as Aboriginal – responded to an online survey, with most opposed to holding a celebratory Australia Day event.
Labor Mayor Darcy Byrne said moving the Australia Day celebrations at Enmore Park to a different date would stop it from competing with Yabun and recognise that for Aboriginal people it is a day of sadness rather than celebration.
“We’re seeking to take a more respectful approach to January 26 and acknowledge that for Aboriginal people it marks the onset of colonisation, dispossession, the removal of children and the deliberate destruction of language and culture,” Mr Byrne said.
“There’s a growing number of local communities and people across Australia that think the 26th of January should be a commemoration not a celebration and the ongoing hurt that Aboriginal people feel shouldn’t be exacerbated through fireworks and festivals.”
A Sydney council is set to consider dropping Australia Day celebrations in an effort to mark January 26 in a way that’s “more respectful” to the indigenous community.
The Inner West Shire has a population of just under 200,000 residents, among whom 2000 identify as Aboriginal. According to the council minute, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander working group was consulted on the Enmore Park event but made no comment on whether it should continue. However, they noted the central importance of Yabun, a festival that celebrates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture with musical performances, stalls and community forums, which is held in Victoria Park on the same day.
The proposal will come before council next Tuesday night and is likely to pass with the support of Labor councillors and the Greens. But independent councillor Victor Macri said it was a “bizarre” proposal and had not been subject to adequate community consultation. He was unaware it was under consideration until contacted by The Sydney Morning Herald.
He recently moved a proposal to cut back on the 24 events hosted annually by the Inner West Council, which is eight times more than the City of Sydney. “We’re the party capital of Sydney and now we want to scrap Australia Day?” Mr Macri said. “I hate seafood, it doesn’t mean I want to ban seafood. It’s always been a big day, the community loves getting out there in Enmore Park. I reckon there will be a lot of disappointment.”
The annual angst that accompanies Australia Day is acutely felt in the Inner West, which first considered ditching celebrations last year. Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese, who lives in the area, has proposed holding referendums for a republic and indigenous recognition in the constitution on Australia Day, to broaden the appeal of the date.
Others such as broadcaster Stan Grant have raised concerns that ditching celebrations would only solidify division, with some reclaiming it as a day of white pride without placating those who cling to the politics of resentment.