Australia Day: fireworks and fallout


It is not every week that Fremantle makes the international media and the front page of national papers but our debate around the Australia Day fireworks did …well … cause a few fireworks.

The media response was diverse to say the least but Network Ten’s The Project was one of my favourites as did a great job of tackling the issue in a thoughtful but playful Australian way:

It was ironic that much of the mainstream media complained about how divisive this issue was but then went on to treat the issue in an overly simplistic and polarising manner. Too few media outlets were willing to reflect on or acknowledge how Australia Day is a difficult day for many Aboriginal Australians. This should have been an opportunity for an inclusive debate on a tough issue and it was a shame most weren’t ready for that. There is of course not a universal position on this among Aboriginal Australians but it was disappointing that the views of the Aboriginal elders in Fremantle (who largely support the Fremantle Council‘s decision) were not sought out and expressed.

I thought this SBS article though was a worthwhile nevertheless:

It was also interesting to see how the feedback from Freo people was largely in favour of the decision to do another kind of event. Outside of the Fremantle though the issues got a much more negative response and sadly brought out the nasty side of patriotism at times.

For the record, it is worth restating that Fremantle is not cancelling Australia Day. Australia Day will still happen and everyone can mark the day in which they feel most comfortable. Freo Council is merely no longer funding fireworks on that day as we have done for the past 6 years.  We are instead using the money saved to do a range of other more inclusive family events which will still bring many thousands of people to Freo.

I can’t help but feel that there is a wider change afoot on this issue. If you need convincing of that I think this video is a good place to start:

About Mayor of Fremantle Brad Pettitt's blog
City of Fremantle Mayor

16 Responses to Australia Day: fireworks and fallout

  1. Peter McGlynn says:

    Thanks for taking this initiative. Long overdue. It might have been an idea to have an alternative proposal that Council could have announced at the same time. This is something that will take time to percolate but someone has to make a start.

  2. Fidel says:

    Did you consider the comments made by Ben Wyatt an Indigenous politician? “Facile” was included amongst the points he stated. I think you have just demonstrated how unwilling you are to consider opposing views and how intolerant you are to them. There was little feedback sought or opportunity to comment from the community (including business) on this issue. Do not complain of community/media commentary when you railroad through an issue and ignore the community. By the way I have worked with Aborigines on Aboriginal issues for nearly 30 years and currently work for an Indigenous organisation. Not all Indigenous people view Australia day in a similar fashion.

    • hi Fidel
      On your last point we can agree. As i wrote above: “There is of course not a universal position on this among Aboriginal Australians but it was disappointing that the views of the Aboriginal elders in Fremantle (who largely support the Fremantle Council‘s decision) were not sought out and expressed”

      • Dr STG says:

        And your lack of community consultation? You also use the media to your advantage, so it is a bit cheap whinging about the media response when I heard you on the radio promoting the decision. Those who live by the sword, die by the sword eh?

      • It is a complex issue and I think the media reporting could have done a better job of unpacking it rather than jumping to taking sides. That is why i thought the Project was refreshing.

      • Fidel says:

        Again you fail to comment on your lack of community consultation. This issue was pushed through the council in less than two weeks after I read about it in the Herald without any consultation from the community. Remember Brad the community that you failed to consult is the same community that can vote you out of office. Do not continue to hide behind media unfairness on this issue as you have use the same media to push your agenda on other issues.

      • Fidel
        We did consult with Aboriginal Elders on this. We would not normally do a community consultation on the content of our festivals and events.
        But we will as part of the new event format having a consultation process on what people would like to see going forward.
        I don’t believe i said the media reporting was unfair – it was just unhelpful and not very sophisticated for the large part.

      • Fidel says:

        So you had enough time to consult Aboriginal elders but did not consider to consult any community members. That is an absolute slap in the face of every person in the Fremantle community. Who do you represent the Elders or the Fremantle community? How disappointing that you treat the Fremantle community with such disdain. What if the community after your forthcoming consultation states they want fireworks reinitiated. Will you ignore them? With the amount of publicity this issue has generated, you may consider consulting with a small, but diverse group of Fremantle community members, to determine if wider consultation is required regardless of your existing processes. I am not against the change in fireworks, I do feel it was made hastily and without due process of consultation. Additionally, it would have been advisable to phase them out after next years’ Australia Day rather than within 5 months of the event. Shortsighted!

      • Let’s see Fidel. I predict that by February next year there will be growing support for our position, Brad

    • Adam Brunker says:

      You can’t please everyone. And taking the stand you are was used as no more then a publicity stunt. I attend Australia Day celebrations every year not because we arrived on this day but because I am an Australian and I am proud of this country and its people. Every year I go into Freo for the fireworks on Australia Day. As I am a tax paying citizen of Fremantle such decision should of had community engagement. I acknowledge the disappointment the elders may feel but Fremantle is a multicultural city opinions should be sought from the residents in the Fremantle area. All you have achieved is Fremantle residents like myself will attend different events and take vital money out of the community.

  3. Andrew says:

    I don’t feel local councils have an obligation to provide fireworks on the same day that James Cook happens to have landed in Australia. I would prefer to see money spent elsewhere. The fact that all 10 public holidays in WA are not representative of the original custodians of this land needs to be addressed, and hopefully WA will take a leaf out of ACT’s book, i see it as frivolous to pursue a policy that spends ratepayer money on yet another whitemans holiday, i would prefer to see money spend on an inclusiveness day or something more progress. If Fremantle can lead the way on acknowledging meaningful change then i am all for it. Note the most recent art installation.

    • Fidel says:

      Australia Day does not commemorate James Cook’s landing in Australia. Maybe you need to learn that Australia Day is actually a commemoration of the arrival of the First Fleet led by Captain Arthur Philip.

  4. If the Freo council was serious about respecting the feelings of SOME of the members of the Aboriginal community it would ban ALL Australia Day celebrations and not just the expensive fireworks. Surely this selective ban is just as insulting as having a sky show as any recognition or celebration of the landing of Cooks party in NSW is as hurtful to those few who resent the event no matter how it is recognised or celebrated.

    • Fidel says:

      Australia Day does not commemorate James Cook’s landing in Australia. Australia Day is actually a commemoration of the arrival of the First Fleet led by Captain Arthur Philip.

  5. freoishome says:

    Thanks for those links.The Channel 10 solution was spot on, ie, the day we vote to get rid of the Queen – Independence Day. Might only be 5 years away! As you say a great discussion, light hearted, yet really considering the actual problem, what day should replace it, while still having significance and without causing conflict?

    Now need to lobby the Australian Republic Movement to make sure that the vote is on a great day for BBQs!


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