Australia Day heat on City of Cockburn: group asks council to ditch celebrations

Cockburn Aboriginal Reference Group chairwoman Sally-Anne Gamble.
Cockburn Aboriginal Reference Group chairwoman Sally-Anne Gamble.

Cockburn will be called on to follow Fremantle’s lead and change the date of its Australia Day celebrations.

Cockburn Aboriginal Reference Group chairwoman Sally-Anne Gamble spoke to the Gazette on Thursday after City councillors had voted to allocate up to $10,000 for a comprehensive consultation process with the ARG and the broader Aboriginal community about its Australia Day activities.

She said the January 26 date, which marks the arrival of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove in 1788, was something the 15-person ARG team would raise during talks with the City.

“The major feeling is that having the event on an alternative day would mean more inclusiveness to celebrate this amazing country,” she said.

“We have no issues with Australia Day. It’s just the date.”

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Ms Gamble said cultural activities held by Aboriginal people as part of January 26 events could be misconstrued as an endorsement of the day.

She said participation by Aboriginal people was more a symbol of “surviving” because until recently there had been no alternative day of celebration.

Fremantle sparked debate last year when it decided to scrap its annual Australia Day fireworks display in favour of an event more culturally sensitive to Aboriginal people.

Its One Day in Fremantle event proved a success, with more than 15,000 people flooding the port city.

Ms Gamble said Fremantle “set a benchmark”.

“The best thing about the day was that it wasn’t just about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; there was a real multicultural mix,” she said.

She hoped the extended consultation between the ARG, City and the Aboriginal community, which is likely to take place over the coming 12 months, would lead to something similar being introduced in Cockburn.

Deputy Mayor Carol Reeve-Fowkes said the City had not previously considered changing its Australia Day events, but was prepared to work with the Aboriginal community to ensure issues “are able to be positively addressed in the City’s planning for future activities”.

“One of the objectives of the forthcoming consultation process is for the issues of concern to the Aboriginal community, as they relate to Australia Day, to be more clearly understood by the City and provide a pathway for future cultural or other activities,” she said.