By Shane Scanlan
The “invasion day” label, which has controversially dogged Australia Day in recent years, has caught up with the CBD-based Melbourne Day, with immediate consequences.
After decades of support, Melbourne Day is this year proceeding on August 30 without any funding from the City of Melbourne.
Melbourne Day chairman Campbell Walker told CBD News the council this year offered only half as much as in previous years. And, he said, new conditions attached to the grant obliged him to not accept it.
Mr Walker said the diminished grant was conditional on a 50 per cent refund back to the council should bad weather keep the crowds away from the 10.30am flag raising ceremony at Enterprize Park.
“It would have been fiscally irresponsible to accept the grant,” Mr Walker said.
Support for Melbourne Day is waning within the councillor group, with at least two publicly declaring they won’t be taking part in the celebration.
Aboriginal portfolio chairperson Nic Frances Gilley and Cr Rohan Leppert say they won’t be recognising the day that the destruction of local indigenous culture started.
Cr Frances Gilley said he didn’t participate in Australia Day and he similarly thought it inappropriate to celebrate the founding of Melbourne on the anniversary of the day white settlers first arrived.
“I think we should stop it. I think we should change it. I think we can do better than that,” he said.
Cr Frances Gilley said Canada and New Zealand had managed to be proud of their European heritage without necessarily offending their indigenous residents.
“I don’t think anyone is trying to give offence. They’re just trying to celebrate their European culture and everybody means well. But there is a cost and that cost is to the 60,000 or 70,000 years of continuance culture on this land.”
“If we are going to celebrate, then we need to be inclusive. The current model does not promote reconciliation,” he said.
Cr Frances Gilley said white Australians celebrating “invasion days” was akin to someone walking into your house and, after five minutes, starting to rearrange the furniture without your permission.
“And then they would tell you how lucky you are that they invited themselves to dinner,” he said.
“I want to be a proud Australian, not a proud white Australian, and I feel compelled not to support the current arrangement,” he said.
He suggested that a day like Moomba, when there were lots of people around, might be a better day to commemorate and celebrate Melbourne’s origins. Or, alternatively, he suggested the birthday or anniversary of the death of William Barak as a date.
Cr Frances Gilley said he was not willing to “fight a fight that could not be won” in the current political climate, but he was not willing to participate and would continue to speak his mind when the issue next came up at the City of Melbourne.
Cr Rohan Leppert concurred, saying: “I love this city and there is so much to celebrate about Melburnians and our achievements, but I’ve never felt that Melbourne Day was critical to these celebrations.”
“The occupation of the north bank of the Yarra in 1835 by European settlers is a historical fact. Choosing whether or not to celebrate Melbourne Day doesn’t change the historical fact, but it does say a lot about how government views indigenous Victorians.”
“The committee’s mission is to make Melbourne Day prominent. I admire the tireless volunteer efforts of the committee but, to be frank, I’m relieved that Melbourne Day isn’t all that prominent. If it was, it would generate just as much controversy and division that Australia Day does.”
“But I’m a white bloke, questions about Melbourne Day’s future should be put to traditional owners ahead of me. Until we have a mature understanding of the cultural significance of Melbourne Day and its future, I’m reluctant to sink ratepayer’s funds into the romanticisation of white settlement,” Cr Leppert said.
But Mr Walker says the local indigenous community supports Melbourne Day.
“They say they’d rather talk about the present and the future rather than the past,” he said.
He said he was disappointed that Crs Frances Gilley and Leppert had chosen not to consult directly with him on their views.
Mr Walker pointed out that he and his committee were volunteers and said, if Melbourne Day was not appreciated, there were plenty of other ways he could give back to the community.
The August 30 flag-raising event will be preceded by an indigenous “welcome to country” and a “junior lord mayor” will be presented in the presence of Lord Mayor Sally Capp and other councillors.
A City of Melbourne spokesperson said the committee was offered cash sponsorship.
“However the Melbourne Day Committee had concerns about its ability to meet the requirements to increase free public programming and attendance numbers, and declined the sponsorship.”
“Attendance at the Melbourne Day Flag Raising Ceremony is typically under 200 people. Sponsorship under the Event Partnership Program is usually restricted to events which attract more than 1000 people.”