Patricia Gill, Denmark Bulletin
Shire president Kingsley Gibson says Australia Day celebrations in Denmark have moved in step with changing community attitudes and demands.
Councillor Gibson said the Denmark Shire Council did not have a position on Australia Day and spoke to the [Denmark] Bulletin as a private citizen about tomorrow’s Kwoorabup Festival which he believed would be a safe and inclusive event for all.
But January 26 had moved away from a ‘jingoistic, flag waving’ celebration, with more people wanting a time to reflect on Australia’s history and what the day signified for Aboriginal people.
Others viewed Australia Day as an occasion for protest and mourning.
“However, everyone who wants to be part of the day can be involved in the Festival,” Cr Gibson said.
He believed the ‘flag wavers’ were now a smaller part of the community than in the past and counted himself among those who once enjoyed the fireworks extravaganza of Australia Day.
“I believe, now, that it should not be a day of celebration, rather a time to get together to reflect on and respect our history,” Cr Gibson said.
Denmark Historical Society president Bev McGuinness said she was extremely disappointed that the old format of Australia Day celebrations on Denmark had been dropped.
“I believe it is an incredibly important community event; we are all supposed to be equal as Australians,” Mrs McGuinness said.
She would like to see that format reinstated.
The celebrations held until recently had involved shire councillors and staff making a barbecue breakfast for attendees at Berridge Park.
It also included the Citizens of the Year announcements and ceremonies for people to become Australian citizens.
Mrs McGuinness said a former shire councillor, the late Carole Powley, had initiated the Australia Day celebration format for Denmark.
“Carole would be devastated if she were still with us,” Mrs McGuinness said. The day had been a useful exercise for shire staff and councillors to get to know the locals.
Mrs McGuinness did not believed January 26 was an inappropriate day for Australia Day and as an attendee at the 1988 Bicentenary in Sydney described this as a ‘fantastic event’.
“I think every country in the world has been invaded at some time,” she said.
Cr Gibson said the Covid pandemic had disrupted the Breakfast in the Park format of Australia Day celebration.
However, Shire staff had given up their public holiday for ‘umpteen years’ and after doing their turn believed that another community group could step up and organise the breakfast.
“We got a lukewarm response to that from community groups,” Cr Gibson said.
Also some citizenship ceremony participants had found the ceremony in front of a huge crowd overwhelming.
This was especially the case among people who had felt emotional about giving up citizenship of their country of birth.
The ceremonies are now conducted in relative privacy at the Shire offices.
Also the Shire had received feedback from Citizen of the Year nominees who had felt uncomfortable about attending the Australia Day celebration to receive their award.
For this reason the Citizen and Sports Citizens of the Year announcements and celebrations were now held during Thank A Volunteer Week.
This article appeared in the Denmark Bulletin, 25 January 2024.