News / Council

Moreland recognises January 26 as a day of mourning

The Aboriginal flag will be flown at half mast twice a year

The Aboriginal flag. Photo: Creative Commons via flickr

Mark Phillips
Friday, March 20, 2021

THE Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags will fly at half-mast above the Brunswick Town Hall on January 26 every year, after Moreland Council adopted a new policy recognising the ongoing hurt for First Nations people the day causes.

The flags will also be at half mast on May 26, National Sorry Day.

The move recognises the role the council plays in leading reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly the Wurrundjeri people who were the traditional owners of the land now known as Moreland.

The Moreland Reconciliation Working Group and the Wurundjeri Council were consulted on the proposal to fly the flags at half mast on January 26, with Wurrundjeri elders also suggesting that the policy be extended to National Sorry Day.

Cr James Conlan, who moved for adopting the new policy, said growing numbers of Australians were marching each year on January 26 demanding reconciliation and a treaty with First Nations peoples and the council should be leading that debate.

“The national debate leading up to January 26 is difficult because it does force us all to reflect on who we are and where we come from, including the violence that has been inflicted on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for over 200 years,” he said.

“For First Nations people this day symbolises pain and trauma,” he said.

“I think how we choose to mark this day as a council, including the symbolism that we use is extremely important.

“One symbolic and important thing we can do as a council is to mark this day with the respect and sombreness that it deserves by flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags at half mast on January 26.

“Council can and should continue to play a leading role in these bigger conversations . . . it shows that were are mature and brave enough to enter conversations and take leadership.”

The push for flags to be flown at half-mast gathered steam this year with Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, who is a Gunnai-Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, leading calls for it to happen.

“On this day, the Aboriginal flag can be flown at half mast, as befits a day of grief and remembrance,” she wrote in an opinion piece in The Age in January.

But it quickly became another touchstone for the culture wars with conservative media commentators and politicians criticising councils who adopted the policy.

Our view

Australia Day — January 26 — is a day of pain for all First Nations people.

Whether you call it Invasion Day or Survival Day, it is a reminder of the brutal colonisation of this continent by the British government in 1788, and the policies of genocide that followed it.

To continue to commemorate Australia Day is an open debate. The question seems to be if we are to have a national day, when is a better date? Is it on April 25? January 1?

Regardless, the celebration of white Australian culture on January 26 every year is an insult to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and a reminder of the pain and trauma of those 233 years of colonisation.

Growing numbers join protest rallies every year, and even among the so-called “quiet Australians” there is increasing recognition of this.

The very least we can do is to acknowledge the hurt of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Moreland Council’s decision to fly the flag at half mast on January 26 and May 26 every year is a small, but significant, gesture towards reconciliation and should be applauded.