Change the date talks urged

Robert DoughertyNorth West Telegraph

Australia Day is fast approaching, with Pilbara families gearing up for the national holiday, but local leaders have encouraged people to discuss concerns about changing the date.

The issue of celebrating the arrival of the First Fleet of British ships in New South Wales in 1788 is a contentious subject with the day associated with picnics at the beach and fireworks in the modern era but also the start of British colonisation. Earlier this month, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said he was disappointed by calls to change the Australia Day date, likening it to a denial of history.

Port Hedland’s first indigenous female councillor Telona Pitt said Port Hedland was a forward-thinking town and residents needed to make their ideas known through town representatives.

“We as a town haven’t had that conversation and I haven’t received a recommendation from the Kariyarra elders whether we would want to change the date, but I think that it’s important that there is a conversation in the town about it,” she said. “For me, I understand there are better days. January 26 really only symbolises the British coming to Australia and setting up a penal colony. It’s not the date we became a nation.”

The Strong Leaders group, composed of elders and leaders from different Hedland language groups, held a meeting in November last year to discuss the issue.

“Here in the Pilbara, there are a few different opinions,” Strong Leaders member Raylene Button said. “Strong Leaders has held a very robust discussion about what Australia Day means to people.”

“The reality is that when we are talking about the Pilbara region, we didn’t have a lot of that impact until later, but when there is an Aboriginal concern, it affects all Aboriginal people, such as issues around Australia Day, and they become a ripple effect.

“January 26 is definitely not something to celebrate. If the early settlers had come with good relations, it would have been different, but the killings, the murders and taking areas without consultation.

“And these things are recorded not just in Aboriginal history but in the diaries of early settlers, so you can see it isn’t a good thing to celebrate. How can you celebrate a murder?

“We acknowledge what ancestors and early explorers have done but we are not about continuing that legacy. We have come to a place to try to heal and reconcile.”

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