13 May 2024

AlburyCity council considers community response to format change of Australia Day celebrations

| Vanessa Hayden
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AlburyCity will discuss how Australia Day celebrations will be programmed in future years at their council meeting on 13 May. Photo: AlburyCity Facebook.

Albury councillors will consider the outcomes of community consultation on the format of future Australia Day celebrations at their council meeting on Monday night (13 May).

An 11-page report prepared for the meeting will guide the council’s decision on how to program future Australia Day events.

The report, released to the media by AlburyCity Council on 8 May, details the consultation process, the survey responses and various recommendations based on the feedback of 2107 respondents and engagement with First Nations people.

The survey results found strong community support for AlburyCity hosting a mix of events on Australia Day, including the Albury Awards, the January Citizenship Ceremony, family fun activities and games, music, markets/stalls, food trucks and Indigenous experiences.

The report revealed that more than 70 per cent of people want to acknowledge Australia Day with activities at Noreuil Park, and more than 60 per cent want events such as the Albury Awards to be held on or close to 26 January.

In December 2023, the council reaffirmed a decision to trial a different format for the 2024 civic events and activities, with the Albury Awards moved to 19 January, Australia Day at Noreuil Park held on 26 January and the citizenship ceremony held on 29 January.

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Community consultation started on 17 January and ran through to 31 March, with officers from AlburyCity at each event to gather first-hand feedback to determine the level of support for the changes and the preferences for future activities and events.

Some of the recommendations in the report include amending the civic event to an evening event on 25 January at the Albury Entertainment Centre and holding the citizenship ceremony on Australia Day. It also recommends an increase in the level of activation at Noreuil Park on Australia Day, including continuing to explore the addition of Indigenous elements or assisting in the promotion of those being delivered by others.

The report stated, “Council acknowledges that there is differing sentiment in the community about Australia Day and that 26 January is the national Australia Day public holiday.”

“Further, that activities traditionally held on 26 January can be challenging for some members of the community, and that participation and attendance at the events was continuing to reduce over time.

“Council sought to determine community sentiment regarding the events traditionally held on and around Australia Day.”

Feedback was encouraged through surveys made available on the AlburyCity Have Your Say webpage, links through social media channels, hard copies at community pop-ups, posters with QR codes, and submissions to the council. A total of 2107 responses were received.

The survey responses represented wide age ranges. The greatest proportion of responses was provided by those aged 35-54 years and 55-75 years. The survey questions asked for a level of support, specifically: very supportive, supportive, neutral, not supportive and not at all supportive.

Further comments were also welcomed from participants, and the council acknowledged that it was “apparent from the review of these comments that there was some confusion regarding the rationale and intent of the amended 2024 civic event and Australia Day program”.

“As a local government entity, AlburyCity has no power to cancel Australia Day nor change the date of Australia Day. The date of Australia Day is decided at State level.

“The survey questions were specific to the Albury Awards, citizenship ceremony and hosting community events on Australia Day.”

In response to the question ‘How supportive are you of the Albury Awards being held as a separate event and not on Australian Day?’ 62 per cent said they were not at all supportive or not supportive, and 31 per cent said they were very supportive or supportive. Seven per cent were neutral.

In response to the question, ‘How supportive are you of the Australian Citizenship Ceremony in January being held as part of our annual program of new citizen recognition events, and not on Australia Day?’ Sixty-three per cent said not supportive or not at all supportive, 32 per cent said very supportive or supportive and 5 per cent were neutral.

When asked how supportive they were of council funding and hosting activities at the Noreuil Park Foreshore on 26 January to acknowledge Australia Day, 72 per cent were very supportive or supportive, 20 per cent were not supportive or not supportive at all and 8 per cent were neutral.

Consultants KPMG were engaged to facilitate a conversation with the city’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee and a series of yarning circles, which involved 19 participants.

The detailed insights from these meetings have been provided to councillors for Monday’s meeting; however, some of the findings from the themes discussed in the report include that the First Nations people who participated thought “celebrating Australia’s national identity is important, but the current date of 26 January is problematic”.

It said participants agreed that 26 January fails to reflect the unity and community that should define a national day of celebration, “rather it recalls a time of displacement and pain, and therefore advocate for a day of celebration that all Australians can share without the weight of this historical trauma”.

It outlined that many of those who attended the sessions articulated the necessity for greater awareness and deeper engagement, suggesting the introduction of platforms such as educational forums and yarning circles to facilitate open dialogue within the community.

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The report also demonstrated that participants believed that there was an opportunity to further intertwine Aboriginal culture and education into the fabric of the community; “this includes in local events, language and artwork displays, community and schools’ programs thereby creating a more culturally safe and appreciative environment for all residents”.

Regarding the citizenship ceremony and civic awards, the report revealed that the majority of community participants expressed support for moving both events away from 26 January, stating, “It was widely perceived by participants that this shift is a thoughtful approach to ensure that significant personal milestones, such as receiving an award or becoming an Australian citizen, are not linked with the colonial history that causes distress for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.

The community response to the ‘Enjoy Summer in Albury’ event held on 26 January was overwhelmingly positive, with attendees saying they appreciated the departure from traditional Australia Day celebrations and “found the atmosphere to be considerably more relaxed and enjoyable, with a focus on inclusivity that naturally encompassed all attendees without specifically targeting or excluding First Nations people”.

While the council’s communication department released the report for media scrutiny, it advised that the council would not make any comments or statements about the matter until after it was considered by councillors on Monday night.

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