A group working towards the appreciation of the position of Indigenous people on the meaning of January 26 has applauded the work of City of Ballarat CEO Justine Linley in helping to form a series of commitments from council to recognise their concerns, now listed in a letter of acknowledgement.
The council's Koorie Engagement Action Group (KEAG) has spent the last decade looking to enhance opportunities and provide a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander residents of Ballarat, in line with the council's Reconciliation Action Plan 2019-2021.
Its stated objectives are:
- To advise the City of Ballarat on matters of engagement for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the region,
- Oversee the implementation of Council's Reconciliation Action Plan 2014-2017,
- Enhance and promote understanding within the Ballarat community of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, society and heritage,
- Identify issues affecting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and develop responses in collaboration with key partners, agencies and other tiers of government,
- Influence change processes in agencies providing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to assist in building cultural sensitivity and service integration that facilitates greater responsiveness to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,
- Advocate for and support key elements of the existing current service and support infrastructure in Ballarat for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Gunditjmara woman Sissy Austin is a member of KEAG and has worked with Ms Linley over the past 12 months. She says KEAG and other members of the Aboriginal community in Ballarat formed a 'January 26' working group at the start of the year.
"Last year Amber Lovett and I asked the question of council: 'Is January 26 a celebration?'" Ms Austin says.
"It's been a year since we asked that at the last council meeting of the year. Council agreed to enter into discussions throughout 2019, and we've been meeting regularly. So the CEO and the City are on board 110 per cent."
Ms Austin says while not all of the city's councillors are in agreement, it's good to have everything that the CEO and the City can do outlined in the letter.
Through general conversations throughout the year with the committee it's become apparent not all councillors are open to hearing our concerns about January 26.Sissy Austin
"She read us the letter at a meeting a few months ago, but only got permission recently for it to go public. We were concerned that if it wasn't in the public view it doesn't mean as much. So Justine (Linley) agreed for it to be made public."
One of the most contentious issues for the City of Ballarat, according to Sissy Austin, is the fireworks show over the lake on the evening of January 26.
"The decision on the fireworks on January 26 has to come from the council vote, from the councillors, not the CEO," Ms Austin said.
"Through general conversations throughout the year with the committee it's become apparent not all councillors are open to hearing our concerns about January 26."
Among the positions agreed to by the City of Ballarat are:
- a comprehensive community engagement opinion process undertaken by an independent consultant with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in relation to their views and opinions on 'Australia Day' in 2019, to be presented to council at a strategic meeting,
- As long as Australia Day continues to be held on January 26, the City of Ballarat will strive to acknowledge the day in a different way. Recognition of January 26 as a day of mourning and acknowledgement of past wrongs will be given at any event the City of Ballarat organises.
City of Ballarat CEO Justine Linley told The Courier the council is adhering to the position of the Federal Government on the naming of Australia Day, holding citizenship and similar ceremonies on January 26.
"We will continue to respect and represent that, " Ms Linley said.
"But we are also following the guidance of Reconciliation Australia, and support the recognition of Survival Day and mourning ceremonies. The letter issued represents what I can do as CEO and what our organisation can respond with, and lines up with our Reconciliation Action Plan."
Some of the guidelines council will follow include: inviting Indigenous elders to play a special role in Australia Day programs, if they wish, including Welcome to Country, and to respectfully hear what the day means for them; acknowledge Australia Day reminds Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island People of past loss and these feelings are legitimate; respect this with a minute's silence at the start of formal events to acknowledge past injustice; wider flying of the Aboriginal flag and Torres Strait Island flag; allowing council workers who do not wish to recognise Australia Day to be given the option to work on that day.