FREMANTLE council’s attempt to create an all-inclusive alternative celebration for Australia Day has hit a hurdle, with some Whadjuk Noongars complaining not enough of their culture is being showcased.
Corina Abraham says the One Day Festival on January 28 is an opportunity to promote local Noongar talent, but the only indigenous performers are being flown in from the eastern states.
“It’s like doing a Chinese day, but getting white people to run the day, and getting a Japanese artist. As if, so long as they’re Asian, they’re right, they represent the Asian community. Well it’s not like that. And One Day feels tokenistic,” Ms Abraham says.
Although the council initially shifted the celebrations from Australia Day because of Aboriginal sensitivity to a date associated with colonisation, it says the aim was always to rope in a broad range of cultures rather than focus specifically on Noongars.
“We have the annual Wardarnji Festival in October for that,” Freo’s Aboriginal engagement officer Brendan Moore told the Herald.
But Ms Abraham says she feels Whadjuk Noongars played a big part in pushing for the change and need more recognition. She’s after an hour of stage time.
“If you’re going to engage Noongar people for this One Day, let’s bring it back local, to our local people within Fremantle, within Walyalup,” she said.
“We wanted to bring our community together, our young fellas, and put on a performance. Let’s showcase our Noongar country.”
Mr Moore says he’s consulted over 50 Aboriginal people and all have been supportive, while Noongar community members will be involved.
“The MC will be Gina Williams, the Welcome to Country will be done by Richard Walley, Marie Taylor and Herbert Bropho,” Mr Moore says.
There will also be a workshop area focusing on Aboriginal culture and elders will be given a safe place to view the festival.
Ms Abraham bristles at Mr Bropho’s involvement, highlighting the tricky internal politics amongst Noongars.
“Herbert Bropho is from north of the river,” she says.
“If I was asked to speak for that area, I would respectfully say, ‘Wait, get Herbert Bropho up, he’s a traditional owner for up that side’. They haven’t even asked my pop Reverend Sealin Garlett to talk, and he is one of the respected elders in our community.”
Ms Abraham says the city doesn’t understand local Noongar protocol, and some members of the community who should have been consulted have been left out.
“You have to bring us together, it’s better as a community. We work better in unity,” she says.
Fremantle’s arts and culture manager Pete Stone says around 15,000 people attended last year’s festival and feedback was positive.
He says the city is working closely with local elders Richard Walley and Marie Taylor to deliver the Welcome to Country, and a smoking ceremony will be held in the morning at Bathers Beach.
“We look forward to an inclusive day of celebration for the whole community,” he says.
“We wanted to promote Noongar culture, but it’s blacks at the back again,” says Ms Abraham.
by MOLLY SCHMIDT