Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Aboriginal recognition urged for council meetings

Diane Cowburn making her
statement to the council.
A LOCAL resident took the Derwent Valley Council by surprise when she delivered an Acknowlegement of Country before last month's council meeting. Molesworth resident Diane Cowburn rose to her feet at the start of the public forum preceding the council meeting and made a statement acknowledging Tasmanian Aborigines.

"As we meet together we pause to remember and acknowledge that the land on which we meet, Lutruwita, is the traditional land of the Palawa people. This place has been and continues to be sacred to generations of people who have shaped and been shaped by the land, waters and sky for thousands of generations. We acknowledge today's Aboriginal community as ongoing custodians of this land and its ancestral stories and we commit ourselves to the ongoing work for justice and healing in our relationships."

At the end of her statement Ms Cowburn, a retired teacher, suggested that the council include a similar statement at the start of each council meeting and again on Australia Day, which she referred to as Invasion Day, and in the council newsletter. Ms Cowburn's statement was heard in silence, except for her reference to Invasion Day, which prompted Mr Len Butterworth to say there was no such thing.

Mayor Ben Shaw invited Ms Cowburn to provide a copy of her Acknowledgement of Country. "If you want to provide us with the words we can put it to councillors and see if they want to adopt that at the start of meetings," he said.

Immediately prior to Ms Cowburn's statement, Cr Shaw had read a statement of his own, requiring everyone to behave in a quiet and respectful manner at council meetings. While this had not been put to councillors for approval, he said it would be read at the start of all workshops and council meetings.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet's protocol section describes the Acknowledgement of Country as "respect and recognition of Tasmanian Aboriginal peoples’ survival and continual connection with the land spanning more than 60,000 years. An Acknowledgement of Country pays respect to the Aboriginal community, both past and present."

This differs from a Welcome to Country, which is given by Aboriginal people, welcoming visitors to their land. "Only Tasmanian Aboriginal people can give a Welcome to Country in Tasmania. It is highly disrespectful for anyone else to do so. A Welcome to Country might involve: a speech from a Tasmanian Aboriginal Elder or community representative; a speech in Palawa Kani (Tasmanian Aboriginal Language); short history of the people and the area; story telling; singing and dancing; ceremony. This depends on who is giving the Welcome to Country, and to whom it will be given."

"Tasmanian Aboriginal people have a distinctive and age-old connection with their ancestral lands and waters. They are custodians with particular responsibilities. When an Aboriginal person talks of ‘Country’; this encompasses not only the land and water but also culture, knowledge, and the environment."

Acknowledgement of Country has been made by speakers at the local Australia Day observances in New Norfolk in recent years, as well as by former councillor James Graham on some formal occasions during his term in office. Prior to the council's suspension and dismissal in 1996, each council meeting started with a prayer given by local ministers of religion on a roster basis, but this did not continue when the council was reinstated two years later.


  1. Quiet and respectful?
    Arbitrary terms ripe for abuse.
    Shameful language.

  2. Good on ya Diane Cowburn

  3. It is all very well to make a statement entreating people to be respectful of others at meetings,but how can we be assured that the total chaos that has occurred at the last 3 meetings I have attended will not continue ? I am at the stage that I won't attend because I am fearful that there will be violence, the people that are causing the disruption have no idea of protocol or indeed good manners,and I'm not convinced that control can be maintained.If only they would realize that the 'public forum' serves no purpose, it is not recorded or minuted nor do the Councillors or management have to answer their questions,unlike in the formal Council meeting where everything is recorded and questions must be answered or taken on notice and answered in a timely manner (under the local Govt. act) It is just an excuse to vent their spleen,unfortunately it just means that people like me who are interested in Local Govt. and maybe could contribute won't go ....Pity.

  4. An Acknowledgement of Country reflects good manners we try to observe in our everyday life.I am disappointed that this act of respect was not read at the Maydena meeting.
    I do not have Indigenous Heritage.

    The public forums are an opportunity to comment and discuss a wider range of issues than is possible in the formal meeting.
    It is disingenuous to pretend that we are not exposed to all sorts of behaviour and speech in our everyday life and as an older woman I must say that I have never been frightened at Council meetings in spite of the rowdy comments and bad language (on both sides).
    The Mayor is still in charge of the meeting and has a range of strategies to control the meeting.
    The intrusion of such things as Facebook, Twitter etc. allows distortion and manipulation of issues and actions to suit an individual's personal agenda.The digital media is susceptible to this type of misuse and can inflame emotions.
    All we require is truth and fairness.