The newly elected Ballarat council has got off to a bold start by ending fireworks over Lake Wendouree on the traditional Australia Day date of January 26.
Reaction to their decision last night on social media was largely supportive, but one key question for council is as yet unresolved. Now the fireworks (which draw more than ten thousand people to the lake each year) will not be held on that day, when would be most suitable?
Council officers are due to look at alternative dates, including New Year's Eve and the Begonia Festival, to hold either fireworks or other celebrations using the $40,000 funds previously spent by the City of Ballarat on the January 26 event.
Have your say: Scroll tot he bottom of the story to have your say on the new date
There has been growing controversy over January 26, which is seen by some as a day of mourning rather than celebration. The date, seen as the beginning of dispossession of First Nations people by European colonial settlers, saw Ballarat take a major step in 2020 with the introduction of a Survival Day dawn ceremony.
Last night council made another clear statement about the future inclusiveness of any January 26 events with a seven to two vote declaring the date inappropriate for fireworks.
Two councillors - Des Hudson and Ben Taylor - argued for more community consultation before a final decision.
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Cr Belinda Coates led the process for change, proposing an alternate motion to the one recommended by officers, who had suggested a decision on fireworks be deferred until more community consultation had taken place.
Cr Coates asked for the motion to be reverted to another option, which would confirm the fireworks moving from January 26, with celebrations to happen on another date yet to be confirmed. "Moving the fireworks away from this date would be an incredibly powerful gesture for this council to make," she said.
She argued for supporting the work of the Koorie Engagement Action Group, an advisory committee to the City of Ballarat, which has long advocated for fireworks not to be held.
Her alternate motion was seconded by Cr Mark Harris, another vocal supporter of moving the fireworks away from January 26.
A clear sign of the debate's direction came next when Cr Amy Johnson spoke in favour of Cr Coates' alternate motion. "If a day causes such heartache and pain and anger, then I absolutely support it being changed," she said.
Cr Hudson then asked if there could be broader consultation before a decision, saying that some sectors of the community "would say we are dancing to the tune of one drum".
Cr Peter Eddy acknowledged Crs Hudson and Taylor's concerns over seeking more community feedback but said: "I think consultation needs to be balanced with leadership."
Cr Tracey Hargreaves said it was a chance to be on the "right side of history". "It seems like an inevitable thing to me that January 26 is going to be treated differently," she said.
The mayor Cr Daniel Moloney also spoke, acknowledging it was unusual as chair to speak to items, but said the issue was one he felt very strongly about.
He said it would be a "moment of incredible pride" to him if the first decision of council were to move fireworks from that date. The votes were then cast, showing the majority support for the motion.
When should fireworks illuminate our lake? Have your say: