'An act of betrayal': City divided over Australia Day cancellation

As the country counts down to Australia Day, a council in Western Australia is defending its decision to go it alone.

The port city of Fremantle will effectively become a litmus test for the #changethedate movement when the local council holds its "culturally inclusive" alternative celebration two days after Australia Day.

"What we're doing is coming up with something that is actually more Australian," Fremantle mayor Brad Pettitt told 7.30.

It has been a highly controversial move, criticised by the Federal Government and Fremantle's business community.

Faced with losing out on one of the biggest trading days of the year, businesses have clubbed together to raise the $50,000 needed to salvage the traditional fireworks display on the 26th.

Visitors and residents now have a choice: the fireworks, which are part of a four-day fiesta called "Australia Week", or the council's alternative event "One Day in Freo" on the 28th.

On top of all that, far right groups Reclaim Australia and the United Patriots Front are planning to converge on Fremantle on Australia Day to protest against what they called "an act of betrayal against Australia".

'Aboriginal support for this decision has been overwhelming'

Despite the backlash, Mr Pettitt maintained the council was showing leadership on an important national issue.

"Aboriginal support for this decision has been, it would be fair to say, to be honest with you, overwhelming," he said.

"One Day in Freo is going to be a big family community concert. We really hope it's a celebration of what brings us together."

Noongar man Robert Eggington, executive officer of the Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation, said he was one of a group of about 20 Aboriginal elders and heads of families who had endorsed the council's decision at a meeting last year.

He said Aboriginal people find nothing to celebrate about the day, which marks the arrival of the First Fleet.

"Australia Day being celebrated on the 26th of January means the celebration of history, and in that history Aboriginal people have suffered so greatly," he said.

Mr Eggington will take part in a smoking ceremony at Western Australia's oldest public building, The Round House, ahead of the council's event on the 28th.

"I think white Australia will benefit from the decision that Fremantle Council has made, once it's able to rise above the fear," he said.

"I think we're creating a potential unity for the future by speaking out."

'We need to go forward and don't look back'

Noongar elder and ambassador for the Australia Day WA Council, Robert Isaacs, disagreed.

The former West Australian of the Year said his fellow Indigenous Australians were causing divisions by opposing Australia Day.

"We're one nation of people and we've just got to try and not forget that we need to go forward and don't look back," he said.

Dr Isaacs said hundreds of Aboriginal families attended Perth's Skyworks each year after a "survival concert" in the city centre, and he was scathing about the City of Fremantle's alternative celebration.

"I'm hoping people stand up very strongly and serve a strong message to the council that when it comes to their next election, they vote them out and get Australia Day back to where it belongs, January 26th."

'Council has got a little too far ahead of itself'

Federal Liberal MP Ben Morton felt so strongly about the issue that he took out a full-page advertisement in a local Fremantle newspaper urging residents to support the national celebration.

The member for Tangney was instrumental in forcing the council to reinstate its citizenship ceremonies on January 26, which it had also planned to move to the 28th until the Commonwealth pulled rank.

"But they're wanting to create a national debate. And I just think the council here has got a little bit too far ahead of itself in that regard.

"Perhaps rather than getting involved in national political debates, Fremantle council should stick to its knitting."

But Mr Pettitt pointed out that on top of January 26 causing discomfort for Aboriginal people, it had little relevance to WA.

"As a West Australian, I've always found Australia Day to be odd. It is New South Wales day. In terms of the relevance to Western Australia, it's a pretty long bow to draw," he said.

'We feel we need to support it'

On the streets of Fremantle, views were polarised.

Karl Bullers of the city's National Hotel, who has contributed to the festivities on the 26th, was keen to stay out of the politics.

"I can see both sides of the argument," he said.

"This is a national public holiday and we feel we need to support it.

"The whole of Australia is facing tough economic times so it's very important for us to have these events to bring people into Fremantle."

Just down the road, Tom Forbes of Mills Records said he supported the council's stance.

"I'm definitely going to go down to the One Day event," he said.

"It [Australia Day] definitely should be moved.

"It's basically celebrating the beginning of a genocide in Australia."

photo 'An act of betrayal': City divided over Australia Day cancellation images

photo of 'An act of betrayal': City divided over Australia Day cancellation

Article 'An act of betrayal': City divided over Australia Day cancellation compiled by Original article here

More stories