Ballarat Koorie Engagement Action Group members resign over January 26 fireworks

Sissy Austin.

Sissy Austin.

Indigenous members of Ballarat's Koorie Engagement Action Group have resigned following a lack of action over the City of Ballarat's January 26 fireworks.

Two members, Rachel Muir and Sissy Austin, have stood down from the group.

Ms Austin, who had been a member for eight years, said in a statement she was in tears over last week's council meeting.

At last Wednesday's council meeting, councillors disagreed on moving Ballarat's January 26 fireworks display to another date, instead resolving to vote for a motion which included a commitment for council to collaborate with the Koorie Engagement Action Group in its plans for future January 26 activities.

It also acknowledged that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people may see the day as one of mourning - and that the day was "an opportunity to promote understanding, respect and reconciliation."

Ms Austin said some councillors engaged in "disrespectful" commentary.

Maryanne Sam reads a list of Indigenous massacres at the Survival Day dawn ceremony. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Maryanne Sam reads a list of Indigenous massacres at the Survival Day dawn ceremony. Picture: Lachlan Bence

"Why do I find myself with tears rolling down my face during reconciliation week watching the City of Ballarat Council meeting?" she said.

"Our report was introduced, then seconded. But in a split second I felt like I could feel the pain of my ancestors all over again. Two white councilors suddenly had the power and control to alter our recommendations, they voted to keep the January 26 firework celebration in Ballarat, after all of our cries, after spilling our pain and trauma into what 'they' requested from us.

"We met every single month over the year of 2019. These meetings were hard. We had real discussions about how January 26 makes us feel as Aboriginal people and how upsetting it is that City of Ballarat contradicts its commitment to reconciling with its Aboriginal community members by celebrating the rape, murder and assimilation of our people and our culture with its January 26 celebrations."

This year, KEAG, with the City of Ballarat, held a Survival Day dawn ceremony on January 26, one of the first times the day has been recognised in this way in a regional city.

The event was nominated for a Reconciliation Victoria HART Award (Helping Achieve Reconciliation Together) - winners will be announced on Friday.

Later that day, the fireworks display was also held.

Ms Austin, a member of the First People's Assembly, told The Courier last month the dawn ceremony had "kickstarted a journey" among non-Indigenous people in Ballarat as well.

"It's pain, and it's hurt, and it mirrored the feelings that people feel on days like Anzac Day," she said.

"When the community comes together and attends events like that, and shows the support is there, change comes from the ground up."

In a statement, she said she would be stepping off KEAG, labelling it "tokenistic", and called for Reconciliation Victoria to " strip the City of Ballarat of their Reconciliation Action Plan".

"Over the past three years, the Koorie Engagement Action Group and the broader Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in Ballarat have been calling on the City of Ballarat to re-consider their celebrations on January 26," she said.

"There have been countless questions raised during question time at council meetings, community meetings, petitions and acts of protest. With little resolution.

"To amend our recommendation to suit their need for a 'soft' approach is an act of control and power."

City of Ballarat deputy mayor Belinda Coates, who introduced the motion, said it was a disappointing outcome.

"KEAG and the broader Indigenous community, over a long period of time, have been really quite patient in trying to gradually walk towards some changes," she said.

"There's councillors not genuinely willing to come to the table, and that's been a challenge."

Other members of KEAG include Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal representation from the Department of Justice, Department of Health and Human Services, Federation University, Victoria Police, the Ballarat and District Aboriginal Cooperative (BADAC), the Wathaurong Aboriginal Corporation, Centacare, and Cafs Ballarat.

Today, June 3, is also Mabo Day, which recognises the High Court overturning terra nullius and eventually leading to enshrining native title in law.

The City of Ballarat has been contacted for comment.

This story 'Why do I find myself with tears rolling down my face?': Indigenous leaders resign first appeared on The Courier.