Geraldton Aboriginal community participate in ‘day of mourning’ on Australia Day

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
Jarni Ryan, 15 Harmony Whitby, 13, and Tylily Ryan, 18.
Camera IconJarni Ryan, 15 Harmony Whitby, 13, and Tylily Ryan, 18. Credit: Phoebe Pin/Geraldton Guardian/Geraldton Guardian

While many were enjoying their snaggers and lamingtons by the beach, Australia Day was a much more sombre occasion for Geraldton’s Aboriginal community.

Across the State, marches were held in protest of the public holiday, which has for decades been considered a day of mourning for many Aboriginal people.

Former Geraldton resident Bernadette Clarke — sister of Yamatji woman JC who was shot dead by police — was among those for whom January 26 is a difficult day.

“Australia Day means the opposite to us. It is our day of healing and sorrow, it is our day of coming together as Aboriginal people,” she said.

“From sunrise to sundown, it is our mourning day.”

Three months on from the Supreme Court trial which acquitted a Geraldton police officer of her sister’s murder, Ms Clarke was passing through Geraldton on her way to spend time with family in Carnarvon.

She said JC was never far from her thoughts.

“She’s always told me to hold my head up high as an Aboriginal woman and be proud of who you are,” she said.

“Here I am still holding my head up high as an Aboriginal citizen. I just want to tell the nation that we need to come together as one to be recognised as Aboriginal people.”

Ms Clarke said the hearing had been a “rough journey” for her family, who continue to object to the verdict of the jury.

“We appealed against it from day one and I want to take it to Canberra, to the higher courts,” she said.

Yamatji artist Charmaine Green and her family spent the day by the foreshore staging an “in situ” commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which was staged in protest of the government’s approach to Indigenous land rights.

Others chose to be part of the City of Greater Geraldton’s official Australia Day program, with Aboriginal elder Derek Councillor performing a welcome to country and smoking ceremony.

Guests were also treated to a performance from the Wilinyu dancers during the day.

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