In 2018, South Australian Australia Day Council CEO Jan Chorley decided to approach the upcoming 2019 date a little bit different. She decided that she wanted to include a First Nations voice. After seeking advice from community members, in 2018 she engaged with Gina Rings to produce an Indigenous part of the Australia Day Parade.
What followed was the careful planning and production of Australia’s first, First Nations led Official Australia Day Parade, it was a successful event, which started off with an intimate Smoking Ceremony at 7am in the morning, called Mourning in the Morning, honouring First Nations people.
Fast-forward 12 months later, and Freelance Artist and Birra-Gubba, Wokka Wokka and South Sea Islander woman Alexis West has taken the reigns from Gina and is driving it to become an even bigger event than it was first time around.
Reconciliation SA got to catch up with West (Left, with Matt Plummer from Utopia Arts) and ask her a few questions surrounding her involvement in the production.
1. What do think about First Nations people being involved in this event?
“2019 was the first year that there was a presence of first nations people leading the parade and it was incredibly powerful to see banners like ‘change the date’ on the 26 of January leading the march. It’s remarkable. Banners like ‘Always was always will be’. So, we are going to be continuing that this year with the input of Aboriginal Elders, community members and first nations people that really want to be a part of making a change.”
2. On becoming involved in this event, what was the decision-making process?
“I was boosting her [Gina Rings] up, saying Sis, what your doing is really deadly, your infiltrating this structure. And when Gina moved on she was tapping me on the shoulder to take over the role and it took me quite some time to really reflect and take it on, and I thought it would be really hypocritical of me to be boosting up my sister when I wouldn’t be able to step into those shoes myself.”
3. What was it like, in January 2019, seeing Elders, mob and banners etc. in the parade?
“even though I wasn’t physically present at the smoking ceremony or at the parade, I was watching what was happening via live feeds and uploads on Facebook, and what I saw and what I heard was incredibly powerful. You could see for the smoking ceremony for instance, just this beautiful and profound remembering and honoring, so whether the date changes or not I think that this is something that nationally we should do. But with the parade it was just really exciting to see the support of people, all the red, black and yelling. It was thrilling from afar.” [West was at the Survival Day event]
4. Do you support changing the date?
“I am Absolutely an advocate for changing the date. Australia Day on the 26th of January hasn’t even always been on the 26th of January.”
5. Who are you trying to reach with your involvement?
“I think a lot of people that are for changing the date don’t want to attend Australia Day events, then there’s people that are somewhat ignorant to how the 26th of January affect First Nations people and then you’ll have those that are absolutely resistant and they’re all about keeping it on the 26th of January. And I just think, don’t try and gag us, if we want to march, and lead that parade, and we want a share with all you mob that we want to change the date, that it always was, always will be Aboriginal land, then big love, I hope you can actually look, hear and see without anger and resentment, but with empathy and understanding”.
6. How many other were involved?
“Those that felt the group wasn’t for them tapped in with advice, opinions and their feelings and tapped out, which helped, and others have been there from the start. It’s been incredibly empowering being a part of that group, having rigorous conversations, critically talking about the day and what it means and how to push forward. Regardless of getting backlash from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. But other First Nation organisers included Njarrendjeri Elder, Uncle Major ‘Moogy’ Sumner, and Kaurna Elder, Uncle Fred Agius, community member Duane Rankine Sr and many more.”
7. How involved was Jan Chorley, the CEO of the SA Australia Day council?
“The CEO [Jan Chorley], whose openly been involved in the Open Circle Discussion group, and the meetings, was aware of what’s happening, with the banners, and had learnt to let go, and to trust us”.
8. What do you say to First nations people who disagree with First Nations involvement in the parade?
“There’s so many ways of fighting, of being a warrior, and shift and make changes. There’s lots of different ways of resisting oppression and fighting for what we believe in”
Alexis West is proud of her and all other First Nations involvement in this event. Which again, will begin with a Smoking Ceremony; Mourning in the morning at 7am at Elder Park. Followed by the Official, First Nations led, Australia Day Parade at 6pm.