Bundjalung Elder Uncle Mickey Ryan was asked to brief Lismore City Council on why the date of Australia Day should be changed.
Bundjalung Elder Uncle Mickey Ryan was asked to brief Lismore City Council on why the date of Australia Day should be changed. Sophie Moeller

What a difference a date makes

LOCAL Aboriginal leaders have greeted the announcement Lismore City Council is to launch a community consultation on the date of Australia Day with admiration and excitement.

But according to Associate director of NORPA Kirk Page, while he "admired” the council for beginning the process, "it was still only the beginning and no easy fix.”

In September 2017, Lismore City Council Council passed a resolution to consult with and inform the community about what January 26 means to the Aboriginal community and report back to Council within 12 months.

The community consultation is entitled 'What Does January 26 Mean to You?' and people are asked to complete a short survey through Council's community consultation portal Your Say Lismore.

Mayor Isaac Smith said the council would "like to contribute the voice of the people of the Lismore Local Government Area to the national conversation about the date that Australia Day is held.”

As part of process Bundjalung Elder, Uncle Mickey Ryan was asked to address council about what January 26 "means to them.”

"The January 26 date will always be Invasion Day or Survival Day; to we Aborigines, 'a day of mourning'.

"It will always be the day that the First Fleet came to Australia.

"It will always be a day of protest for as long as there are things that need to be protested against.

"The only way to aspire towards a day where we can all come together as a nation, is to change the date.

"There is no greater opportunity of that conversation than one simple question. What date should Australia Day be held?

Uncle Mickey said the council's move, however, was a "positive development” and in keeping with the Reconciliation campaign - "Don't keep history of a mystery” - to make the Australian public more aware of what really happened to the nation's first people.

NORPA Associate Director Kirk Page.
NORPA Associate Director Kirk Page. Marc Stapelberg

Mr Page said: "People need to sit down for a minute and think about how they would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. A little bit of understanding and courage is what we need as a nation.”

"White Australia has a very dark history and we as a nation need to try truly looking through the eyes of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander brothers and sisters for a new story that involves ALL of us moving forward together where we can ALL feel valued, included and acknowledged.

But Mr Page also said the consultation was "very exciting and progressive - who would have thought?”

Aboriginal community development facilitator Aunty Mim Bolt said: "changing the day could bring unity amongst all Australians with letting go of the past.”

Twins Kivesha and Kabani Walker Roberts, 4, find themselves on a bench next to an Royal Mail letter box during a day outing to Lismore from Tabulum.
Twins Kivesha and Kabani Walker Roberts, 4, find themselves on a bench next to an Royal Mail letter box during a day outing to Lismore from Tabulum. Sophie Moeller

MULTICULTURAL AUSTRALIA DAY: Australia Day as reported in The Northern Star on January 27 1983.
MULTICULTURAL AUSTRALIA DAY: Australia Day as reported in The Northern Star on January 27 1983.

The Lismore Echo approached a number of older local members of the Lismore community, who all said January 26 held a special place for them in their memories because it was the day "they grew up with”. All, however, expressed that in celebrating the day they had not intended to offend Australia's indigenous people.

"The Australia Day Council website states that 'January 26 has multiple meanings: it is Australia Day for some, and it is also, for some, Survival Day.'

Australia Day in in the early 1980s in Lismore. Darren Bolt plants a tree at Centenary Park with Mr Joe Pisini, Mr Gerard Anemaat, Mr Mick Michael, Mr Peter Feros and Mr Gregory Ho.
Australia Day in in the early 1980s in Lismore. Darren Bolt plants a tree at Centenary Park with Mr Joe Pisini, Mr Gerard Anemaat, Mr Mick Michael, Mr Peter Feros and Mr Gregory Ho.

"A number of councils around Australia are having conversations with their communities about the date Australia Day is held on, and we are joining that conversation (and) we would like people to take part in a survey and tell us what the date means to them.”

Federal Member for Page Kevin Hogan is doing his own survey on whether the date should be changed.

He has stated he "firmly believes Australia Day should be held on January 26”.

However, he said it was his job to listen to the community and encouraged the community to fill out the survey at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/GBMJ3CB

Council will send the results of its community consultation to the Prime Minister, local members and relevant federal and state government ministers.

The community consultation runs until July 15.

To provide feedback, visit Your Say Lismore at www.yoursay.lismore.nsw.gov.au.

Residents can also provide feedback direct to Council staff in The Quad during Reconciliation Week this Thursday, 31 May between 10am and 12pm or at the annual NAIDOC Day celebrations at the Lismore Showground on 5 July.


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