Andrea Metcalf

The Central Bendigo Uniting Church Cluster Council’s letter sent to council in May questioning the validity of celebrating Australia Day on January 26 was discussed at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Council reiterated its commitment to the goals of its Community Plan and Reconciliation Plan and a respectful and ongoing conversation with the community on the issue.

Councillor Jennifer Alden said it is timely to have a conversation with all of our community, especially our First People about the celebration of Australia Day.

“January 26 is part of our shared national history. I believe that it is possible to celebrate our history and successes, while acknowledging that our history is not without wrongdoing and not without pain and suffering for Indigenous Australians,” Cr Alden said.

No councillors proposed changing the date of Australia Day or altering January 26 events such as the citizenship ceremony and Australia Day awards in Bendigo.

Cr Andrea Metcalf  was the only councillor to abstain from a vote to engage with the local community as part of the next Reconciliation Plan during the next three years.

“The decision about the day of Australia Day is the responsibility of the federal government,” Cr Metcalf said.

“Five out of 547 local governments in Australia have changed how they mark Australia Day and one has since backflipped on its decision to not hold a citizenship ceremony on Australia Day,” she said.

Yarra, Darebin and Moreland City Councils in Melbourne are among those to have altered their Australia Day celebrations.

Councillors Rod Fyffe and Malcolm Pethybridge were supportive of an open dialogue on the matter, with Cr Pethybridge remarking that he loves Australia Day.

“I’m proud to be an Australian and I would consider myself white Aboriginal,” Cr Pethybridge said.

“We celebrate on the 26th, but we have got to remember we have a leap year every now and then. The 26th is not correct. It’s just a day we celebrate Australia Day and we are proud to be Australians,” he said.

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people consider January 26 to represent a day of mourning and loss.

It is a day that signifies the beginning of invasion and dispossession felt by Aboriginal communities, council’s report said.

In 1994, all states and territories endorsed the creation of Australia Day as a national public holiday to be celebrated on January 26.

Nicholas Nakos