Fremantle Is Ditching Its Australia Day Fireworks After Consulting With The Indigenous Community

"For many Aboriginal Australians it is indeed a day of sadness and dispossession"

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Fremantle Council has acknowledged the divisive nature of celebrating Australia’s national day on January 26 and cancelled their annual Australia Day fireworks. The council voted 10-1 in favour of moving the celebrations to another day, following discussions with the local Aboriginal community in Fremantle. Separately, activists are petitioning Triple J to change the date of the Hottest 100, de-coupling it from Australia Day.

“There has been a growing movement that January 26 is increasingly becoming a day that is ‘not for all Australians’. For many Aboriginal Australians it is indeed a day of sadness and dispossession,” said the Mayor of Fremantle, Brad Pettitt.

“For them there was a real sense that Australia Day is not a day of celebration for everybody, in fact, for them it is a day of sadness and in many ways, a day that marks the start of much of their dispossession,” he told the ABC.

Australia Day celebrates the start of Australia’s colonisation and the dispossession Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 2014  Nakkiah Lui wrote an article in The Guardian describing Australia Day as a “day of mourning” for Indigenous people. “It is not a day to go over to my friends’ to sit in a blow up pool and get drunk, and it’s definitely not a day to wear red, white and blue while waving a flag with a Union Jack and a Southern Cross on it,” she wrote.

“We do not celebrate the coming of the tall ships in Sydney’s harbour. Instead, we mourn the declaration of Australia as terra nullius (land that belongs to no one) as well as those who have died in massacres, those who were dispossessed of their land and homes, those were denied their humanity, those who were shackled, beaten, sent to prison camps, and made to live in reserves. We mourn those who have died in the resistance.”

Fremantle Council’s decision reflects the growing view that January 26 is an inappropriate date on which to celebrate Australia’s national day. “I hope it will see a wave of change across the nation that will see Australia Day fundamentally shift to a more inclusive and respectful approach,” Pettitt said.

But not everyone is happy. The WA Labor spokesperson on Indigenous Affairs, Ben Wyatt, told The Australian, “Cancelling fireworks is a facile response and likely to cause more division.” Businesses groups are unhappy over a lack of consultation. Fremantle Council has said that the $100,000 fireworks budget will be allocated to another event to celebrate in a more inclusive and culturally appropriate way.

A separate campaign is calling on Triple J to change the date of the Hottest 100 countdown. A petition launched by the “Bar(r)ed Subjects” collective argues that “By changing the date of the Hottest 100 Countdown, Triple J can send a message to First Nations’ Peoples that they, and their experiences, are valued and respected by other Australians”.

It’ll be interesting to see whether other councils follow in Fremantle’s footsteps. The City of Sydney supports the Yabun Festival as an alternative to Australia Day, but also sponsors other ‘celebrations’.