Learn more about changes to 26 January

Monday 21 August 2017

Why is Yarra Council changing the way it marks January 26?

We are changing the way we mark January 26 out of respect for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who have told us that they experience January 26 as a day of sadness, pain and disconnection.

January 26 commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet and the planting of the Union Flag on Gadigal Country (in Port Jackson). For the Wurundjeri and the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, this marks the beginning of invasion and dispossession. Celebratory events held on this anniversary only intensify the sadness, pain and disconnection experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

To have a truly inclusive national celebration we need to find a day which includes, honours and celebrates the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have inhabited this land for 60,000 plus years prior to European settlement.

What did Council base this decision on?

Celebrations held on January 26 are known to have a disproportionately negative impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, many of whom experience the day as a sad and painful day. This is why this Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with links to Yarra were the target of the consultation. To gather broader community sentiment, we also opted to survey non-Aboriginal people at a range of locations around Yarra. Approximately 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples took part in the survey as compared with almost 300 non-Aboriginal people.

Council’s decision was based on this information, a general knowledge of our community through a range of Council networks, and the visible groundswell of support for change demonstrated by the estimated 50,000 Melburnians – Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal – who took to the streets on January 26 earlier this year.  

Who did you consult with?

Yarra Council has a longstanding relationship with its Aboriginal community. The way in which Council marks January 26 has been a topic of discussion with the community for many years.

Since February this year, Council consulted over 100 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through both an online survey and a special Aboriginal Advisory Group meeting. We also consulted with the Wurundjeri Tribe Land Cultural Heritage Council.

In addition, we commissioned an independent survey, which took the views of nearly 300 non-Indigenous people in Yarra.

What were the results of the community consultations?

The results of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community consultation showed that this community found Australia Day celebrations alienating, hurtful and upsetting – an anniversary that marks the beginning of invasion and dispossession. A strong theme to emerge from the consultation was the need for increased promotion of history and increased recognition of Aboriginal peoples – to foster greater compassion, acceptance and understanding in the community.

The results of the broader community street survey were also supportive of change. In the executive summary of the consultation report, Metropolis Research stated that:

“The results of the survey… clearly indicate a strong level of community support for Council taking a more active role in acknowledging the experience of January 26th of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, including specifically a strong level of support for Council supporting the #changethedate campaign.”

Does this mean that Yarra Council is anti-Australia Day?

We are not anti-Australia Day, nor the celebration of national identity. We are opposed to celebrating our national identity on January 26, a day which causes such great distress to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Will the Mayor, Councillors and staff of Yarra Council still take a public holiday on January 26?

As elected representatives, the Mayor and Councillors work every day for the Yarra community, including public holidays. 

January 26 remains a public holiday, and Council's customer services centres will be closed. However, household rubbish and recycling collections will take place as normal. Our libraries and leisure centres will also open (but may have amended timetables).

Will I lose my public holiday on January 26?

No, Yarra City Council is not seeking to take away the January 26 public holiday. It is simply looking for more culturally respectful ways to mark the January 26 public holiday.

Why doesn’t Council stick to ‘rates, roads and rubbish’?

Council has a responsibility to advocate on behalf of its community, as well as deliver a range of essential services. 

Since the Local Government Act 1989 (Vic) was passed 30 years ago, the role of local councils has grown to do more for local communities, including “advocating the interests of the local community to other communities and governments”.

Our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community has told us that January 26 celebrations have a significant negative impact on their health and wellbeing. As a Council, we have a legislative responsibility to show leadership and advocate on their behalf. 

As important as our advocacy work is, we are equally committed to delivering a vast range of everyday services and programs. The community recently awarded us top marks on our services in an independent survey of 1,050 Yarra households. Our top performing services included rubbish collection and local libraries, while our most improved services included road maintenance and parks. 

This is a Federal Government issue, why is Yarra Council getting involved?

We are getting involved because this is a local issue as much as it is a national one. The way we mark January 26 has a significant negative impact on our local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community.

We have a long-standing and collaborative relationship with our local Aboriginal community, and are proud to be a leader on Aboriginal issues within the Local Government sector.

Yarra also has a long-standing link to this issue through Aboriginal elders Bill Onus, Jack Patten, Margaret Tucker and Pastor Douglas Nicholls who were part of the ‘Day of Mourning’ protest in Sydney on January 26 in 1938. All of these elders would go on to play strong leadership roles in Fitzroy’s Aboriginal community.

January 26 is our national day of celebration – why should the date be changed?

The date should be changed so it can be a celebration that includes all Australians – especially First Australians. As one of Aboriginal survey participant put it:

“I don’t think Australia Day represents what it could. Australia has a unique, long and interesting history and begins well before the first fleet arrived, and continues to be enriched by new patterns of migration and cultures today. The kinds of things Australia Day currently represents are not inclusive, or something that make me proud, or that I want to take part in.”

But Australia Day has always been on January 26 – it’s a tradition.

Australia Day only became a national public holiday celebrated by all states and territories in 1994.

How much will it cost for you to implement these changes?

The costs for carrying out these changes are minimal. All recommendations can easily being completed within existing budgets.

Will Yarra Council be cancelling Australia Day celebrations?

We do not traditionally hold any official public celebrations on Australia Day.

In previous years, we have held a citizenship ceremony on January 26 (one of 6 or 7 ceremonies that are held throughout the year). At the same event, we also announce the winners of Yarra’s Australia Day Awards including Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year and others. This event is generally attended by people participants and their families, and is not open to the broader community.

We will continue to hold community awards, however these events would no longer be held on January 26.

Can Yarra residents still celebrate January 26?

The Yarra community is welcome to celebrate on January 26 in any way they choose. Yarra Council encourages people to reflect about what this date really means in the history of our nation and its affect on our Aboriginal community. 

Where can I find more information about the Aboriginal history of Yarra?

Learn more online about the Aboriginal history of Yarra

How can I find out more about Aboriginal community events and good news stories in Yarra?

You can find out more about events and news on the Celebrating Aboriginal Culture in Yarra Facebook page. 


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