3,500 share views on complex issue
As Australia's current national day, the way in which 26 January is acknowledged has become a significant and increasingly mainstream issue, particularly with respect to First Nations' experience of the day.
Acknowledging the day is not a shared celebration of Australia as a whole community, last year, the Maribyrnong City Council sought to review the way it should respond to 26 January going forward.
The conversation began last October, with questions included in the Annual Community Satisfaction Survey, a hard copy questionnaire sent to all households, and a digital survey, complemented by meetings with Elders and a series of workshops.
Results across all these activities demonstrated majority support for Council to acknowledge the experience of First Nations peoples on 'Australia Day', 26 January.
While this includes 80% of the more than 2,688 respondents to the hard copy and digital survey, the result was not as clear-cut from the 800 randomly selected residents who participated in the Annual Community Satisfaction Survey. While the majority were also in support, there was also a large number who did not express a view either way.
There was, however, a very clear commonality among supporters that liaison with First Nations was critical in this process and that "we listen to what their needs are to guide us in that acknowledgment."
There was also a strong desire not only for ongoing conversations but also for more education. Many respondents said they did not feel comfortable providing ideas or suggestions on what appropriate recognition might look like, without first understanding the issues and underlying factors that relate to the feelings of First Nations peoples on this day.
What we heard
Council resolved in March 2021 to lower the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to half-mast to recognise the dispossession, suffering, and hurt experienced by First Nations people. This was done for the first time on 26 January 2022.
We’ll be looking at ways to help our community learn more about our shared histories so they feel better able to contribute to the ongoing conversation. We’re pointing initially to Reconciliation Week as a starting point. You can find more information here National Reconciliation Week - Reconciliation Australia
Conscious of our community's desire to better understand the complexities around this day, we are also exploring opportunities for conversations between First Nations and the broader community where stories and journeys can be shared.
We’ll also be seeking further feedback in the coming weeks around what a respectful acknowledgement of 26 January could look like in Maribyrnong going forward, based on our conversation with Elders.