9 July 2019

Flag raising commitment to Canberra's Aboriginal, Torres Strait communities

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Aunty Lydia George, Rachel Stephen-Smith, Selina Walker

Aunty Lydia George from Canberra’s Torres Strait Islander community, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Rachel Stephen-Smith and Nugunnawal woman Selina Walker were among the flag bearers at Monday’s NAIDOC ceremony. Photos: Genevieve Jacobs.

In the bleak Canberra midwinter, the annual NAIDOC flag raising at the Legislative Assembly was filled with warmth, goodwill and good intentions for this year’s NAIDOC theme of Voice, Treaty, Truth.

Ngunnawal woman Selina Walker, who carried the Aboriginal flag in a brief but powerful ceremony, said that “it was an absolute honour to be able to be part of raising the Aboriginal and Torres Strait flags.

“This year’s theme gives us back our voice. It works towards reconciliation and it brings out the truth. My elders and ancestors worked very very hard to bring about the truth. This is another opportunity and platform to do that.”

United Ngunnawal Elder Council chair Aunty Roslyn Brown, Selina Walker, Ngunnawal elder Aunty Agnes Shea and Torres Strait Island elder Aunty Lydia George at the flag raising ceremony.

Aunty Lydia George carried the Torres Strait Island flag and the ACT flag was carried by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs minister Rachel Stephen-Smith.

Walker believes that the Reconciliation Day public holiday in the ACT has done much to build awareness and recognition in the past year. “I’ve seen a broader knowledge, understanding and awareness everywhere because of Reconciliation Day,” she said.

Minister Stephen-Smith said that Canberra had always been a place of gathering and decision making with “incredible cultural and spiritual importance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their families, their ancestors, their stories and their songlines”.

Acknowledging the leadership of the United Ngunnawal Elders Council and the local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, she said they had worked tirelessly to support the local community.

But, the Minister said, the Uluru Statement from the Heart asked all Australians to walk in a movement together for a better shared future. “It is up to us to accept that invitation and to build our shared future together.”

Noting that Canberra’s Aunty Thelma Weston had been named national female elder of the year at the 2019 NAIDOC gala, the minister also recognised ACT NAIDOC week winners Garth O’Connell and Anthony Longbottom.

“The enduring success of NAIDOC is that it’s driven by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community,” she said. “The strength of our local community is reflected directly by Aunty Thelma’s win, an inspiration for all Canberrans. So many people have said ‘because of her we can’ about Aunty Thelma.”

The Aboriginal flag is also flying over City Hill during NAIDOC Week.

Minister Stephen-Smith said that the ACT government’s commitment was demonstrated through the symbolism of the NAIDOC flag raising event. “Flags can stir strong emotions. Flags tell stories and histories, they are full of symbolism. That’s why flying the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags side by side with the Australian and ACT flags is so important.

“I look forward to continuing to walk and work towards a shared future for all of us here in the ACT,” she said.

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