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Issue #1764      February 8, 2017

One Day in Fremantle

The marking of Australia Day has in 2017 has taken on a different aura than in recent years with demonstrations to acknowledge the injustices of official government programs of dispossession and assimilation that were imposed upon the original inhabitants and owners of this land: to recognise this invasion and the survival of the people, their culture and way of life.

As reported by Peter Mac (“On pride, shame and national responsibilityGuardian #1763) “protest demonstrations were held in many Australian cities”, including Perth which was held at the Supreme Court Gardens and organised by the Black Deaths in Custody Watch Committee. Speakers included Mervyn Eades and Noongar elder Ben Taylor, the former emphasising that Australia was not an “empty land” prior to colonisation, that there had been a vibrant and comprehensive culture and way of life for over 60,000 years up until January 26, 1788. It remains the world’s longest continually practised culture to this day.

Another elder, Mr Morrison, spoke about his ordeal of institutionalisation that marked the attempt to “civilise” and break his Noongar people. As a young boy in the south west town of Narrogin, where he was arrested for stealing a cap gun, he remembers the police waiting for him outside the shop and taking him away to the nearby Wandering Mission. The authorities told him his parents didn’t want him anymore – but now he knows that it was all lies. He ran away three times including jumping off a train. He has three daughters now; two of them attended the concert with him.

So, Fremantle City Council – Perth’s progressive port city – came upon the idea of having a concert on January 28, away from the historical baggage of official Australia Day. When the proposal was first publicised, the conservative monopoly media went beserk with headlines and opinion pieces in the West Australian and Sunday Times newspapers that suggested blasphemy and treason. How Un-Australian! Political Correctness gone too far!

However, as Fremantle councillor Sam Wainwright, who addressed the rally said, the council had approached the local Noongar elders about the proposal and they were all for it, following which the Fremantle Council – including mayor Dr Brad Pettit – voted by a majority to go ahead with the proposal for a celebration on an alternate day, which they called, One Day in Fremantle.

Following the rally the crowd marched proudly chanting, “Always was, always will be Aboriginal land”, to the location of that day’s Survival Concert, called Birak Concert (a Noongar word which is the name for the season occurring in the months of December and January). A celebration of Aboriginal song and dance continued into the evening.

On the Saturday morning at 9 am there was a Smoking Ceremony at the Roundhouse in Fremantle attended by 1,000 people, to mark the event when many Aboriginal people had been removed from the far corners of Western Australia and it was the last time they would see the Australian mainland. They were sent to the penal camp of Rottnest Island to an almost certain death in the squalid conditions (now a tourist playground for local and international visitors). From the 1850s to the 1880s it was a place where Aboriginal people were incarcerated for minor offences, from the tribal lands of rich pastoralists from the Murchison to the Pilbara and up to the Kimberley. The mighty Noongar warrior Yagan had spent some time there as well – he was one of the few who escaped.

At 4:30 pm on the Fremantle Esplanade the One Day in Fremantle Concert commenced with a Welcome to Country and a statement of support by the Aboriginal Elders.

There were plenty of Aboriginal flags and camaraderie and cohesiveness among the 10,000 people who came to see the free concert featuring Mamakin, the John Butler Trio and Dan Sultan.

Fremantle Mayor Brad Pettit addressed the concert, saying that the day was chosen as it was “A day we can all come together-people of all cultures which make up Australia. A day that the Black, Red and Yellow flag flies proud … and although it is not decided what should replace Australia Day, the concert is a fresh conversation taking small and important steps towards reconciliation.”

It is a conversation which has now started and from which there can be no turning back.

Next article – A history of US wars of aggression and intervention

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