Welcome to Country shows respect
WELL-KNOWN Grafton Aboriginal elder Rex Marshall has called on the wider community to respect Aboriginal culture in the same way indigenous Australians were expected to respect ‘white man’s culture’.
Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his parliamentary cohort Wilson Tuckey sparked debate on Monday about whether the now-familiar Welcome to Country ceremony, which often precedes official gatherings, was merely ‘tokenistic’ and often inappropriate.
Mr Marshall, who has been recognised for his contribution to Aboriginal health over 48 years, said the Welcome to Country was important because it was a way of bringing cultures together.
Contrary to claims the regular use of the Welcome to Country weakened the Aboriginal cultural message, Mr Marshall said the ceremony strengthened relations between the two cultures through education.
Describing Mr Tuckey as a ‘ridiculous person’ who was simply trying to upset people, Mr Marshall pointed out that Aborigines were asked to adhere to many European traditions.
“We respect the Queen, Anzac Day, the anthem ... all these things,” he said.
“Why does it become an issue when blacks do it (Welcome to Country)?
“It’s a way of respecting Aboriginal culture, just like we respect Anzac Day.
“He (Mr Tuckey) shouldn’t be in Parliament.”
Mr Marshall said the Australia Day Committee, previously for Grafton and now for the Clarence Valley, had never made an Aboriginal person Citizen of the Year despite quite a number of strong contenders.
Mr Marshall, who received an Order of Australia Medal in 1989, said two fellow local Aborigines had also received the honour – Tony Mundine and Carol Wilson.
“But that hasn’t been recognised by the committee,” a fact, he said, which was working against reconciliation in the Clarence Valley.
As to whether the Welcome to Country ceremony was being overused, Mr Marshall said this was not up to Australia’s white population to decide.
“That’s up to us to decide, not for you to decide,” he said.
“We should be given the choice as to whether we want to do it or not for a function.”
Mr Marshall said he declined to do the ceremony at the launch of the film The Story of the Clarence River last year in Yamba.
“This was out of respect for the Aboriginal people of Yamba and Maclean,” he said.
“It had nothing to do with money.”
‘It’s a way of respecting Aboriginal culture, just like we respect Anzac Day.’