By Evelyn Leckie
SMALL steps have been taken towards reconciliation with the City of Whittlesea to hold a minute’s silence at its Australia Day celebrations next year.
The minute of silence will be at all council Australia Day events where guest speakers will acknowledge the past injustices in Australia’s history.
Council also voted to host a culturally-appropriate mourning service on the morning of January 26 to formally acknowledge the pain and suffering the day brings for the Aboriginal community.
Whittlesea Reconciliation Group co-chair Sarah Gafforini said the changes to council’s Australia Day celebrations were small yet powerful if done right.
“The Whittlesea Reconciliation Group are encouraging all community members to take one minute out of their day on January 26 to reflect on the true history of Australia,” Ms Gafforini said.
Ms Gafforini said racism and verbal abuse towards Aboriginal people and people who support changing the date escalated leading up to January 26.
“The hysteria of Australia Day fanatics also increases over January, yet we have the same message. We are all Australians,” she said.
“We all deserve a day we can celebrate what it means to be Australian, our rich cultures and diversity. It’s time for truth telling.”
Ms Gafforini said the new approach council proposed was respectful and more inclusive of all Australians.
In 2017, Whittlesea Reconciliation Group requested council consider ceasing Australia Day celebrations on January 26.
Cr Norm Kelly said he had never heard residents say they were proud about what happened in 1788.
“My recollection is celebrating what’s good about Australia – at the end of the day, I never hear people say ‘let’s celebrate because Aboriginal people were invaded today,” he said.
“I don’t think getting rid of Australia Day is the right way to go.”
Cr Lawrie Cox said he was in support of changing the date.
“We don’t recognise a particular part of the community. The fundamental thing is the day is the most hurtful day for Aboriginal people,” Cr Cox said.
He also said the Federal Government would not support the decision if council decided to stop celebrating Australia Day on January 26.
“It’s an insult to council, we pay $7000 per citizenship ceremony, we’re paying – not the Federal Government,” he said.
Mayor Emilia Sterjova also added the Federal Government could strip council of their right to host citizenship ceremonies if they changed the date.
“Australia Day does signify the beginning of genocide of Aboriginal Australians,” Cr Sterjova said.
“Unfortunately we’re in a difficult situation because we also want to celebrate the wonderful cultural diversity that Australia has.
“That in turn doesn’t allow migrants and refugees, who have every right to call City of Whittlesea their home, a way to enter into our municipality.”