Aboriginal elders saddened by City of Busselton councillor’s comments

Elder and traditional owner Whadjuk, Bibbulmun and Wardandi Dr Robert Isaacs.
Elder and traditional owner Whadjuk, Bibbulmun and Wardandi Dr Robert Isaacs.

NOONGAR and Wardandi elders have expressed their sadness at comments made by some City of Busselton councillors during the acknowledgement of country vote last Tuesday.

Elder and a traditional owner of Wardandi, Bibbulmun and Whadjuk Dr Robert Isaacs was in Busselton last week to work with his people and the community.

Dr Isaacs has received many awards for his work in multiculturalism and has worked with federal, state and local government departments on Aboriginal affairs.

He said it saddened him to express his feelings about what was said in the news media concerning acknowledgement of country by City of Busselton councillors.

“I think the council needs to apologise about what was said by some of the councillors not only to the Aboriginal people but also to the person who put that motion up,” he said.

“Over a long time we have worked in harmony to not only recognise our heritage and culture but to look after the future generations of our young ones who want to be part of this town, the workforce, this community and everything that goes with it.

“A mark of respect has to be shown here and that’s what I say to those three councillors, do they understand what respect is?”

Dr Isaacs met with Mayor Grant Henley to discuss the issue and believed the mayor was right on track to implement a reconciliation action plan for the City of Busselton.

“There is a good rapport with the community here with everyone and I don’t want to see that destroyed,” he said.

City of Busselton mayor Grant Henley said he has instructed city officers to develop a reconciliation action plan for formal council consideration.

”I cannot put words into the mouths of other councillors; they are free to express their views,” he said. 

“What I can do is speak publicly on the stance taken by council as a whole and in terms of effecting change this is the most important issue.  

“Councillors voted, three to six, not to support the motion calling for an acknowledgement of country to be undertaken as the first order of business at all formal council meetings.

“However, the majority of councillors, including myself, favoured considering the issue as part of a formal City of Busselton Reconciliation Policy which will include a broad range of strategies and guidelines including when and where an acknowledgment should be undertaken.”

Bibbulmun and Wardandi Noongar Wayne Webb said he was bitterly disappointed by the comments made by councillors but not surprised.

Mr Webb said his family and parents had worked tirelessly without financial reward to promote their culture and traditions in the community and often with the City of Busselton.

Mr Webb said people in Busselton who grew up with his family would be appalled by the council decision.

“I agree in part that welcome to country often feels tokenistic which is why I pick my participation and choose what to include in my acknowledgement,” he said.

“This is something I am extremely proud of and I will continue to relate this to anyone anytime as it is my human right and what I was born to do.”

Dunsborough anthropologist Brad Goode who works on Aboriginal heritage matters in WA said the council’s decision was out of touch with contemporary political thinking.

Mr Goode said there was a shift in government policy and understanding of active reconciliation and respect for Aboriginal people and their contribution to society and culture.

Earlier this year the WA government resolved to settle native title in the South West by a negotiated agreement with Noongar people.

As part of the agreement it was recognised that Noongar people were the first inhabitants and traditional custodians of the land in the South West.