FREMANTLE mayor Hannah Fitzhardinge said she checked there were no protocols being broken before asking for the Aboriginal flag on the Walyalup Civic Centre to be flown at half mast on Monday.
Fremantle joined Sydney, Newcastle and Adelaide councils in flying its Aboriginal flag at half mast following an overwhelming No vote in last weekend’s referendum on an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.
But the move sparked a social media backlash from some flag aficionados who complained lowered flags should be reserved for notable deaths, and others who said it flew in the face of the majority of Australians who voted against the Voice.
In Adelaide the debate over the flag was particularly heated, with Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith criticised for not informing her colleagues at a meeting the day before, while Sky News host James Morrow accused her of “Trumpian election denial”.
But Ms Fitzhardinge brushed off the fracas, saying lowering the flag was a “minimal thing”.
“I saw it on Sunday and did some research and rang the elders on Monday – the idea being to give them space to process what had happened and then to offer them support.”
Ms Fitzhardinge said the elders were clearly in grief, while one had switched her phone off all week, seemingly in response to a national call for a week of silent protest.
“It’s not the first time that Aboriginal people have suffered this sort of setback, but it is disappointing.
“The small light of hope was that they had invested so much in supporting reconciliation in the City of Fremantle over the years, and in Freo the vote resoundingly supported the Voice; the lowest Yes vote was in Samson with 50 per cent.
“I checked in on how they were going and how we could express our support, and said I had seen the week of silence mentioned and the flag thing, and what they said was that it feels appropriate – that was the word they both used.”
With counting still progressing, South Fremantle’s booth had the highest support for the Voice in the Fremantle electorate, with a 75 per cent Yes vote, closely followed by White Gum Valley with 73 per cent and Hilton on 72 per cent. Fremantle East also polled well for the Yes campaign with 74 per cent, but greater East Fremantle was one of the lower votes in the area with 63 per cent.
Beaconsfield’s two polling station evened out at about 65 per cent.
But in the sprawling electorate, those booths were outnumbered by those in the growth areas around Cockburn Central, Atwell, and Beeliar, while Spearwood also had a high 65 per cent No vote.
In Beeliar West the No vote was 63 per cent, while Cockburn Central was 67 per cent and Atwell around 60 per cent.
The call to lower flags and a week of silence was raised in a statement released on the Uluru Statement website following the vote.
“This is a bitter irony,” the statement said about the majority of Australians rejecting constitutional recognition.
“That people who have only been on this continent for 235 years would refuse to recognise those whose home this land has been for 60,000 and more years is beyond reason.
“For more than six years, we have explained to our nation why the Voice was our great hope to achieve real change for our families and communities.
“Much will be asked about the role of racism and prejudice against Indigenous people in this result. The only thing we ask is that each and every Australian who voted in this election reflect hard on this question.
“To our people we say: do not shed tears. This rejection was never for others to issue.
“We are calling A Week of Silence from tonight (Saturday October 14) to grieve this outcome and reflect on its meaning and significance. We will not be commenting further on the result at this time.
“We will be lowering our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags to half-mast for the week of silence to acknowledge this result.
“We ask others to do the same.”
by STEVE GRANT