Amid today’s celebrations of Australia Day, many eyes will turn towards the West Australian city of Fremantle where the day has been cancelled.
The port city will effectively become a litmus test for the #changethedate movement when the local council holds its “culturally inclusive” alternative celebration two days after Australia Day.
“What we’re doing is coming up with something that is actually more Australian,” Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt said last year about the move, which was criticised by the Federal Government and Fremantle’s business community.
The council stance led to the Turnbull government banning Fremantle from holding citizenship ceremonies “under any circumstances” at its “culturally –inclusive alternative event on January 28”.
As a result, the council was forced into reinstating its citizenship ceremonies on January 26.
Opponents to January 26 remaining as our National Day say it should be changed because Aboriginal people mourn their history and call the day “Invasion Day”.
Faced with losing out on one of the biggest trading days of the year, Fremantle businesses clubbed together to raise the $50,000 needed to salvage the traditional fireworks display on the 26th.
Visitors and residents were left with a choice: the fireworks, which are part of a four-day fiesta called “Australia Week”, or the council’s alternative event “One Day in Freo”on the 28th.
On top of all that, far right groups Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front are planning to converge on Fremantle today to protest against what they called “an act of betrayal against Australia”.
Despite the backlash, Dr Pettitt maintained the council was showing leadership on an important national issue.
“Aboriginal support for this decision has been, it would be fair to say, to be honest with you, overwhelming,” he said.
“One Day in Freo is going to be a big family community concert. We really hope it’s a celebration of what brings us together.”
Noongar man Robert Eggington, executive officer of the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, said he was one of a group of about 20 Aboriginal elders and heads of families who had endorsed the council’s decision at a meeting last year.
He said Aboriginal people found nothing to celebrate about the day, which marked the arrival of the First Fleet.
Dr Pettitt pointed out that on top of January 26 causing discomfort for Aboriginal people, it had little relevance to WA.
“As a West Australian, I’ve always found Australia Day to be odd. It is New South Wales day.
In terms of the relevance to Western Australia, it’s a pretty long bow to draw,” he said.