Urunga residents Rob Canning (left) and Peter Lister only became good mates a year ago through a shared vision for Australia Day. “We wanted to make the day inclusive” says Peter. “By acknowledging the grief and loss endured by the first nation’s people in the making of this nation and making this an integral part of the Australia Day celebrations, we could bring everyone together. Australia Day is for Old Australians, New Australians, All Australians.”
The idea was further ignited after a video of Indigenous Elder Barbara Weaver singing ‘I am Australian…’ at the Urunga Australia Day Awards Ceremony last year, went viral on social media. “We realised there was a strong sentiment amongst the silent majority,” says Peter. “This has nothing to do with politics. Changing the date of Australia Day is divisive. We want to open up the dialogue around reconciliation and unite all, as one.”
Peter and Rob’s response was to create a stunning video, with the help of Cameron Smith and with music by Barry Murphy and of course the many Urunga residents that feature. The video entitled ‘Australia’s Day- The People’s Day’, which showcases the beauty of Urunga and its people, is an emotive film that speaks to the heart and has already taken off on social media. It is a precursor to the ‘Remembrance Ceremony’ which will precede the Australia Day Citizenship Award Ceremony at Morgo Park Urunga on Saturday 26th January. “This ceremony will acknowledge those Aboriginal people who struggled during the making of this nation,” says Peter.
We had the wonderful experience of meeting with Peter and Rob to discuss their vision, not only for Urunga, but for our country as a whole.
Your video is so moving. What has inspired you to take this step?
“Thank you, we appreciate the compliment,” says Peter.
“As an indigenous Australian, I’ve always had a vision for a ‘United’ Australia Day,” says Rob. “When we saw the response to the video of Barbara singing at last year’s Australia Day event we believed there was community support for a more unified approach- which sparked the whole process.”
“We aptly named the video and hence the day, ‘Australia’s Day, The People’s Day’. By adding an apostrophe ‘s’, to eliminate the divisiveness, we are promoting inclusiveness,” says Peter.
Are you film-makers?
“No, none of us are film makers. But we knew that video and images are the best way to get across our message of unity,” says Peter. “I’m a graphics and photography enthusiast and believed I could master the project in a crash course and hence the vision was created. Rob had some great input and direction when it came to the Aboriginal culture in the video. Cameron Smith is a local drone enthusiast who was approached mid project to add some spectacular aerial vision of our town and the students. Urunga resident Barry Murphy created the fresh, magic soundtrack for the Urunga Public School students- who sang the song beautifully. Kaye Arnold, an educator from the school was paramount in the organisation of the students. She handled our requests superbly. And of course it would not have been what it is, without the Urunga Community,” says Peter.
Australia Day is a very sensitive and contentious issue for so many reasons. Do you feel your vision of unification will work to bring all people together?
“Yes, it is a very sensitive issue, something we kept in mind constantly. We knew we were really brave to even “go there”, but if someone or group didn’t stand up, we knew the divisive issues surrounding the day would remain. We feel we are representing the heart of the silent majority….and remaining silent for us, was not an option,” says Peter.
“During the whole process we felt guided, we also knew it felt right in our hearts. I consulted the local Indigenous Community and Elders, who support what we are doing and see this as potentially a great big step in the right direction,” says Rob.
“Australia’s Day is a one-off trial event. We’re presenting it to the people and so far the feedback and solidarity has overwhelmed us. We believe this is a first. Whilst other ceremonies include Indigenous culture, we are the first acknowledging our First Nations people, who have lost their lives, their identity & culture in the making of this nation,” says Peter.
Have you received interest in your mission for unification on Australia Day from other regions?
“We only planned to start with Urunga and feel our way, however the message has spread further than expected and we are seeing a ground swell and feedback from people all across Australia via the ‘Love Urunga’ Facebook page. In one week the video has had over 48,000 views and 500 shares. It has even been seen overseas,” says Peter.
“This is an approach that was never set in stone, it was always intended to be flexible. Different communities will shape and create this into a day that reflects their own community,” says Rob.
You must be busy organising the Australia’s Day Remembrance Ceremony? What can we expect?
“Yes we are both very involved in the ceremony, along with volunteers from the Urunga Mylestom Chamber and our community. Bellingen Shire Council are providing an Aussie morning tea” says Peter.
“I’ve brought together members of our local Indigenous population to conduct the Ceremony. Instead of handwaver flags, we will give sprigs of gum leaves at the event to reflect solidarity with people and land. We encourage everyone to become one, with the message of Unity on the day by wearing cultural face paint provided free. There are also hand-painted ‘Solidarity Rocks’ produced by my children that can be purchased for a coin donation on the day,” says Rob.
Urunga appears to be a very unified, patriotic and positive town and in that way quite unique. Do you agree with that statement?
“Oh Yes, indeed Urunga is a unique community that embraces unity and solidarity,” says Peter. “This fact inspired us to make a day we can all celebrate as one, with respect and honour.”
The Australia’s Day Remembrance Ceremony
⦁ 8:00 as people arrive there will be live music.
⦁ 8:10 Open with a Welcome Introduction.
⦁ 8:20 Smoking Ceremony
⦁ 8:35 Reflection time (silence) & Testimony by Rob
⦁ 8:45 Pastor Paul & Sing Along
⦁ 9:00 Citizenship Awards by Bellingen Shire Council
⦁ 9:30 Review of the project by Rob and Pete.
⦁ 9:45 Story Time.