3 August 2022

Decision to permanently fly Aboriginal flag at Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall meets opposition

| Claire Fenwicke
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Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall

Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall. Photo: Judith Davidson.

The Aboriginal flag could soon join the Australian flag outside the Soldiers Memorial Hall in Yass – but the decision was made without community consultation.

The idea was raised as part of the Mayoral Minute at the Yass Valley Council meeting on Thursday, 28 July.

Mayor Allan McGrath said he thought it was a “fairly reasonable” request.

“I’m sure the community would rally behind this decision,” he said.

“I believe that any step towards reconciliation is a good one and flying the flag permanently outside Yass Soldiers’ Memorial Hall is a step towards reconciliation by giving due respect to First Nations residents.”

It followed in the wake of the NSW Government’s decision to fly the flag atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge permanently.

Mayor McGrath said he had been approached by “one or two people” about the possibility of permanently positioning the Aboriginal flag at the site after it had been flown during NAIDOC Week.

“If that leadership and a conservative Premier can decide to do that, then I’m more than happy to follow,” he said.

“I saw [flying the Aboriginal flag] as a natural progression as the council has flown the Aboriginal flag outside the Visitor Information Centre for more than a decade and displays the Aboriginal flag inside the council chambers alongside the National flag.

“There are also plans to fly the Aboriginal flag permanently outside the Council Chambers.”

No community consultation was undertaken before Mayor McGrath moved the motion.

“I didn’t believe consultation was necessary given flying the Aboriginal flag permanently outside iconic buildings, including war memorials, is common practice across the country,” he said.

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However his proposal wasn’t without its challengers.

As he spoke against the motion with a “certain amount of trepidation” Cr Kim Turner said he had several concerns with the proposal.

“Although the appearance at this point is it’s a very simple motion, it’s actually an incredibly complex situation we’re faced with,” he said.

“I know in speaking against it I’m going to be labelled as a racist, a bigot and I am neither.”

Cr Turner was concerned the local RSL club and broader community hadn’t been consulted about the plan before it was put before the council and that placing the flag at the site would bring “enormous offence” to veterans.

While he described the Aboriginal flag as “evocative” and “beautiful” and that he was “happy” to see it flown in council chambers and on the main street, he took issue with it being situated at the memorial.

Cr Turner argued the names of the people inscribed at the memorial in various wars had enlisted under, trained under and died under the Australian flag.

“If you look at those names there’s no race, there’s no creed, there is nothing there that ties them together other than the fact that they are all Australians,” he said.

Cr Turner described the Australian flag as a symbol of “unity”, while he felt the history behind the Aboriginal flag meant it was a sign of “division”.

“It divided [us] from being Australians to being the First Australians, and they needed – like the Japanese, the Chinese, the British and the Americans – their own embassy in their own country and they rallied around the flag,” he said.

“Nobody went into battle behind an Aboriginal flag, nobody died behind an Aboriginal flag.”

He also argued it was a political symbol that shouldn’t be flown at a “holy place”.

“[It’s a place] where we as a community come together to remember those people who fought for us, who died for us and made sure that we remained free, it is no place for political statements,” Cr Turner said.

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However Cr Adrian Cameron said he thought it was “very appropriate” to have the flag outside the memorial hall.

“They’re only just starting to realise, from a historical perspective, that a lot of Indigenous people served in the war,” he said.

“I think [the hall] is a shrine … but I think Indigenous people played their part as well, and I think we’re only just starting to recognise that now.

“I think it’s a significant step; I think it’s one that we should take.”

Deputy Mayor Jasmin Jones also supported the motion but said she did initially have similar concerns as Cr Turner about the location.

However, she then thought of the service Aboriginal people undertook during the wars, which was “absolutely not recognised” at the time.

“Yes, they did not fight under the Aboriginal flag, but those steps were yet to come,” Deputy Mayor Jones said.

“We have to put aside red tape and expectations about the division that that flag once caused. Because now it is a rallying point, not just for Indigenous Australians, but it’s a rallying point for us as a community to be seen as giving pride to our Aboriginal community and those with Aboriginal heritage.”

The motion was passed with five in favour and three against.

Councillors do have the chance to file a rescission motion against the plan at the next council meeting, scheduled for 25 August. The actual motion does not need to be lodged until 10 days before the meeting.

Original Article published by Claire Fenwicke on About Regional.

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These sorts of decisions by local councils are common and requiring the aboriginal flag is consistent with the de-facto obligation to have acknowledgments of country and the move to have the ‘voice’ (whatever that involves) in parliament. At the present time, objecting would be career suicide, and no doubt this affected the thinking of the councillors.

The Aboriginal flag doesn’t represent Australia or seek to bring people together. It’s a protest flag akin to what the Eureka Stockade was.

Capital Retro7:41 pm 03 Aug 22

What did the first nation’s flag of 50,000 years ago look like?

Pretty much like the British or Australian flags of the same period?

Nobody died behind an Aboriginal flag because they weren’t allowed to have one.

Capital Retro1:46 pm 04 Aug 22

And what did the first nation’s flag look like when NSW became a colony in 1788?

Doubtless CR is preparing to make the points that the current British flag did not exist in 1788, and was not recognised as a national flag until the 20th century, just like the Australian flag after this country ceased to be a colony.

Or maybe CR doesn’t have a point at all.

“Cr Turner argued the names of the people inscribed at the memorial in various wars had enlisted under, trained under and died under the Australian flag.”

Actually the councillor is wrong. The current flag did not become the national flag until 1954. As per this article (https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/australian-flag-defined) soldiers who fought in the First/Second World Wars and Korean War were officially fighting under the British Flag.

And the Aboriginal flag didn’t exist till 1971. So no one died in those wars under this flag either.

Good, let’s not have one.

The flag that is commonly seen as the aboriginal flag, was in fact privately owned until last year, when ScoMo bought out the copyright owner.

Trevor Willis2:50 pm 03 Aug 22

There should only be one flag in Australia, and that is the Australian flag. The aboriginal flag applies to less than 3% of the population and only has significance to aboriginals. It will end up dividing our country as it will be a “them” and “us” situation. For the NSW State flag to be replaced by the aboriginal flag on the Sydney Harbour Bridge indicates, to me, that the NSW Premier thinks more of the aboriginal race than he does of the white community.

@Trevor Willis
The Australian flag is exactly what a majority of Australians determine it to be – as per the Commonwealth Flags Act.
I’d be interested to know why you think the Indigenous flag “… only has significance to aboriginals”. There are a lot of people or European heritage who acknowledge the first nations people and their role in Australian history.
Perhaps you would prefer we adopt the US Confederate flag for Australia, as it certainly would be a perfect representation of your ideology.

The history of the flag means that any significance is contrived for all but a very small proportion of that 3% anyway (I haven’t checked your figures, taking them at face value). I am concerned that issues like this continue to stoke divisions where they may not really exist – and distract us from dealing with the real issues that would work towards reconciliation. I see efforts to fly the flag as tokenism.

“the aboriginal race”
“the white community”

No “them and us” to be seen here folks, as I am sure Pauline would agree.

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