I had a hectic mix of activities on Australia Day, participating in 3 separate citizenship ceremonies, plus dropping in on part of the Invasion Day rally and march outside state Parliament House and also attending some of the later festivities to mark the day at the Jagera centre near Musgrave Park in South Brisbane.
The Invasion Day rally was well attended, with over 500 people there, buoyed by the unexpected news that the review of the DPP’s decision on the Palm Island death in custody had recommended manslaughter charges be laid. It is good that the support from non-indigenous people seems to be continuing and that the state government is clearly still feeling pressure about their failures to date in many areas of Indigenous affairs. The challenge will be to keep this momentum for genuine change going.
This time last year I wrote about what a positive experience citizenship ceremonies are for me. Everyone who chooses to become a citizen will already have lived here for a number of years, and there is no compulsion on people to take the step to become a citizen – as is demonstrated by the many thousands of long-term permanent residents who never become citizens – so it is a positive reflection on our country when people make a conscious choice to become a permanent part of it.
While the basics of citizenship ceremonies are the same everywhere, I found the differences between each of the ones I attended quite interesting. For those who know Brisbane, one was held at Mitchelton, one at Wishart and one at Shorncliffe – all quite different parts of the city. Each had about 40-50 new citizens and each had the mix of the local Councillor presiding, with state and federal members also making short speeches.
Shorncliffe had the distinction of being outside in a park under glorious gumtrees on a hilltop overlooking Moreton Bay, creating a much more casual feel. Whilst each ceremony had an interesting mix of people from a wide range of countries, Wishart had the highest proportion of people from a non-European background – probably about 75 per cent, including a fair number of African background.
The masters of ceremony at each place had a tough job reading out some of the names, but probably the most difficult one I heard all day was of a young woman from Iceland at the Mitchelton ceremony. In a nice touch, this woman gave a short and very good speech at the end of the ceremony telling her own story about why someone from the land of ice and snow was now committing herself to the land of the hot summer sun (and it was a very warm day too). It is interesting that speeches such as these from ‘non-professional’ speakers often go down better with the crowd than the formal ones from people like me.
It may seem to some that Invasion Day marches for justice and Australia Day citizenship ceremonies are completely inconsistent with each other, although I wouldn’t think so myself. A good example of just how compatible they can be came at the ceremony I attended at Mitchelton. Whilst all of the ceremonies acknowledge the Traditional Owners in some way or other these days, the Mitchelton one also had a speech from a locally based Indigenous person (although not a local T.O.). He spoke of some of the history of his people from a bit further north in Queensland, telling some of the stories from when their tribe was being hunted down and shot by police and others, where they fled to to survive and later when they were prohibited from being in the townships after sunset. He also mentioned a local bora ring – which I wasn’t aware of – that they were trying to get proper protection for. He mentioned that many of his people call the day Invasion Day. At the time he was speaking, the Invasion Day rally at Parliament House would have been starting and the people there being given the news about the manslaughter charges being laid over the death of Mulrunji. This probably made it all the more poignant that the Aboriginal man giving the speech at Mitchelton was a police liaison officer, speaking in his police garb. He spoke in a very matter of fact, friendly story-telling way and was very welcoming to the new citizens. He was not a regular speech giver either, but it seemed to me his speech was the best received of all by the crowd.