3 August 2022

Decision to permanently fly Aboriginal flag at Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall meets opposition

| Claire Fenwicke
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Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall

Yass Soldiers Memorial Hall. Photo: Judith Davidson.

The Aboriginal flag could soon join the Australian flag outside the Soldiers Memorial Hall in Yass – but the decision was made without community consultation.

The idea was raised as part of the Mayoral Minute at the Yass Valley Council meeting on Thursday, 28 July.

Mayor Allan McGrath said he thought it was a “fairly reasonable” request.

“I’m sure the community would rally behind this decision,” he said.

“I believe that any step towards reconciliation is a good one and flying the flag permanently outside Yass Soldiers’ Memorial Hall is a step towards reconciliation by giving due respect to First Nations residents.”

It followed in the wake of the NSW Government’s decision to fly the flag atop the Sydney Harbour Bridge permanently.

Mayor McGrath said he had been approached by “one or two people” about the possibility of permanently positioning the Aboriginal flag at the site after it had been flown during NAIDOC Week.

“If that leadership and a conservative Premier can decide to do that, then I’m more than happy to follow,” he said.

“I saw [flying the Aboriginal flag] as a natural progression as the council has flown the Aboriginal flag outside the Visitor Information Centre for more than a decade and displays the Aboriginal flag inside the council chambers alongside the National flag.

“There are also plans to fly the Aboriginal flag permanently outside the Council Chambers.”

No community consultation was undertaken before Mayor McGrath moved the motion.

“I didn’t believe consultation was necessary given flying the Aboriginal flag permanently outside iconic buildings, including war memorials, is common practice across the country,” he said.

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However his proposal wasn’t without its challengers.

As he spoke against the motion with a “certain amount of trepidation” Cr Kim Turner said he had several concerns with the proposal.

“Although the appearance at this point is it’s a very simple motion, it’s actually an incredibly complex situation we’re faced with,” he said.

“I know in speaking against it I’m going to be labelled as a racist, a bigot and I am neither.”

Cr Turner was concerned the local RSL club and broader community hadn’t been consulted about the plan before it was put before the council and that placing the flag at the site would bring “enormous offence” to veterans.

While he described the Aboriginal flag as “evocative” and “beautiful” and that he was “happy” to see it flown in council chambers and on the main street, he took issue with it being situated at the memorial.

Cr Turner argued the names of the people inscribed at the memorial in various wars had enlisted under, trained under and died under the Australian flag.

“If you look at those names there’s no race, there’s no creed, there is nothing there that ties them together other than the fact that they are all Australians,” he said.

Cr Turner described the Australian flag as a symbol of “unity”, while he felt the history behind the Aboriginal flag meant it was a sign of “division”.

“It divided [us] from being Australians to being the First Australians, and they needed – like the Japanese, the Chinese, the British and the Americans – their own embassy in their own country and they rallied around the flag,” he said.

“Nobody went into battle behind an Aboriginal flag, nobody died behind an Aboriginal flag.”

He also argued it was a political symbol that shouldn’t be flown at a “holy place”.

“[It’s a place] where we as a community come together to remember those people who fought for us, who died for us and made sure that we remained free, it is no place for political statements,” Cr Turner said.

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However Cr Adrian Cameron said he thought it was “very appropriate” to have the flag outside the memorial hall.

“They’re only just starting to realise, from a historical perspective, that a lot of Indigenous people served in the war,” he said.

“I think [the hall] is a shrine … but I think Indigenous people played their part as well, and I think we’re only just starting to recognise that now.

“I think it’s a significant step; I think it’s one that we should take.”

Deputy Mayor Jasmin Jones also supported the motion but said she did initially have similar concerns as Cr Turner about the location.

However, she then thought of the service Aboriginal people undertook during the wars, which was “absolutely not recognised” at the time.

“Yes, they did not fight under the Aboriginal flag, but those steps were yet to come,” Deputy Mayor Jones said.

“We have to put aside red tape and expectations about the division that that flag once caused. Because now it is a rallying point, not just for Indigenous Australians, but it’s a rallying point for us as a community to be seen as giving pride to our Aboriginal community and those with Aboriginal heritage.”

The motion was passed with five in favour and three against.

Councillors do have the chance to file a rescission motion against the plan at the next council meeting, scheduled for 25 August. The actual motion does not need to be lodged until 10 days before the meeting.

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