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Centenary as 100 years of colonialism

"Our Home" sign at Lake Burley Griffin
“Our Home” sign at Lake Burley Griffin

For most people, Canberra Day was a day full of capital and national pride, but some sections of society felt differently.

Parts of the Aboriginal community in Canberra felt that the centenary celebrations that took place on Monday were more a “celebration of colonialism” than a celebration of a capital.

As it is widely known, before becoming the site for the nation’s capital, the land that Canberra is built on was inhabited by Aboriginal Australians. Many Aboriginal people feel that the way the city was set up was entirely disrespectful to those who lived here first. It is simple to understand, therefore, that celebrating 100 years of Canberra is to Aboriginal communities celebrating 100 years since the colonization of their land. Volunteers who dressed up in colonial dress to great people at the “welcome” gates and a big sign saying “Our Home” probably didn’t help this perception.

The celebrations at the lake on Monday included a “Reconciliation Stage” where Aboriginal dance and music was performed. The stage, whilst an important part of the celebrations, seemed minor in comparison to the other massive stages. Some people, like Caleb Murphy, said “I walked right past it when I was looking for it. I ended up at the back and then noticed the group of dancers before I noticed the stage.”

Frances Newman, an advocate for Aboriginal rights, said that whilst this stage was a nice gesture, it was a shame that most of the exhibitions were from Aboriginal communities outside of Canberra. The performers included one dance group from Wreck Bay, NSW, one didgeridoo player from Queensland, a dance group from Arnhem Land, NT, two multicultural performances, and just one dance group from Canberra. Ms Newman feels that the fact that much of the content is from elsewhere is a way of distancing the Aboriginal community in Canberra by saying that the “real Aboriginals are out there” and that this is because “People don’t want to look at what’s going on here.”

Wreck Bay Dance Group - Ghudinjah djaadjawan gadhu
Wreck Bay Dance Group – Ghudinjah djaadjawan gadhu

Many peoples from the Aboriginal community in Canberra feel saddened that the opportunity wasn’t used as the great chance of reconciliation that it could have been. “The ideal outcome of the centenary of Canberra was for the Commonwealth government to admit that this country was set up the wrong way and that it is time to fully respect and acknowledge that Aboriginal people were here since the beginning of time,” said Ms. Newman.

Just as Morgan Healy, coordinator of the Reconciliation Stage, said on Monday, “This might be a celebration of one hundred years, but to the Aboriginal people it is many thousands.”

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