Dr Heather Holmes-Ross
Firstly, it is with deep sadness that we received the news of the resignation of our colleague, long time member for Gault Ward, Councillor Stephen Fisher. Stephen was one of a kind, a champion of his causes, in particular planning and heritage, the environment and social justice. He argued his position with intelligence, high principles and financial prudence, was generous of spirit, impossible to offend, and was always the teacher with his enormous knowledge of all things Mitcham. We thank Stephen’s wife Di and his family for the many nights they spent without him, as he dedicated time to his service on Council. I will sincerely miss his warm-hearted presence in our Chamber.
And now to National Reconciliation Week. Who could have guessed how accurately the theme for this year’s celebration, ‘In This Together’, would describe all our lives? Australians of various heritage, culture and circumstance have faced the current pandemic together. As a nation we have been spectacularly successful in flattening the COVID-19 curve and are now inching our way back to a new normality. It is under these conditions of restriction, yet hope and camaraderie, that we recently recognised Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week.
It has been wonderful to witness an increased commitment by Elected Members to a journey of reconciliation. Last year, in addition to our traditional acknowledgement of Reconciliation Week through a ‘Welcome to Country’, I had the honour of unfurling, for the first time, the Aboriginal flag in the Council Chamber. Simultaneously, Allen Edwards Snr, chairperson of the Blackwood Reconciliation Group (BRG), unfurled the Australian flag. The two flags now proudly hang together alongside the Mitcham Council flag.
Also last year, I was invited to take part in the BRG Sorry Day acknowledgement, marked by a raising of the Aboriginal flag at the Blackwood Soldiers Memorial Gardens, followed by a walk along the main road to Colebrook Reconciliation Park. It was during my speech about reconciliation that I posed the question, “As a privileged white person, what can I do?”
The answer unfolded at a public forum, hosted by BRG, around the “Uluru Statement from the Heart”. A crowd of over 300 were addressed by a panel on ways that the Statement, as roadmap to reconciliation, could be advanced. As the only non-Aboriginal panellist, I was moved by the knowledge and experience of the other speakers and realised that advocating for this Statement is what I can do.
From the floor of that meeting a motion was crafted, calling for the Mitcham Council to support a voice to power through the journey of a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), which seeks to embed Aboriginal culture into the fabric of Council and the community. I brought his motion to Council and it was carried unanimously.
And so it is this year, that although Allen’s ‘Welcome to Country’ was to an empty Chamber, and we raised Australian and Aboriginal flags in solitude, I believe our togetherness has never been stronger as we embark on a new path of learning and sharing.