The Western Australian branch of the RSL has banned the Aboriginal flag, Aboriginal languages and Welcome to Country ceremonies at all of its ANZAC and Remembrance Day services.
“RSLWA does not view it appropriate that a Welcome to Country is used at sites that were specifically established to pay homage to those who died and who came from a wide range of cultural backgrounds,” the policy states.
For decades, Aboriginal soldiers returned home to little or no recognition from the RSL. Meanwhile, the speaking of language was actively discouraged and at times banned by the government as late as the 1960s.
The policy states that services are only to be conducted in English with the exception of the New Zealand national anthem, which also has official Maori lyrics.
This comes a year after Aboriginal elder Professor Len Collard read the Ode of Remembrance in Noongar at a Fremantle ANZAC Day dawn service.
Professor Collard spent much of his career preserving the language and had translated the ode from English himself.
RSLWA chief executive John McCourt told the ABC that some members found the recitation of the ode in language to be inappropriate.
“All the RSL is asking for is two days,” McCourt said. The policy only affects the Western Australian branch of the organisation.
Per the policy, only the Australian, New Zealand and Western Australian flags may be flown at ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day ceremonies.
WA Treasurer and Yamatji man Ben Wyatt slammed the policy, noting New Zealand takes the opposite approach on ANZAC Day, and urged the RSLWA to reconsider.
This is a regrettable and divisive decision by RSLWA and I suggest they reconsider. Immediately.
It is worth noting that our New Zealand partners embrace the language of their Indigenous peoples at ANZAC DAY ceremonies.
We should do the same.
— Ben Wyatt MLA (@benwyatt) February 21, 2020
WA Premier Mark McGowan joined Wyatt in calling for the RSLWA to reconsider its policy.
I strongly urge RSLWA to reconsider its decision regarding Welcome to Country and Aboriginal recognition at Anzac and Remembrance Day events.
This recognition has occurred for many years and has added something extra special to the occasion. It should be allowed to continue.
— Mark McGowan (@MarkMcGowanMP) February 21, 2020
Meanwhile, WA Veterans Affairs minister Peter Tinley noted the lack of special recognition, given that Aboriginal soldiers in Western Australia were not even granted unconditional citizenship until 1971.
Aboriginal people wore the uniform of our country for 87 years before they were even counted as Australians. That’s service, that by itself is worthy of recognition. https://t.co/QekUlLYSTK
— Peter Tinley AM MLA (@TinleyMLA) February 21, 2020
Greens senators for WA Rachel Siewert and Jordon Steele-John also spoke out against the policy.
Exceptions would be made to the rule for the Queen and Governor General, as well as for state and local governments who wished to hold their own ceremonies on their own property.
The policy would not apply to the Indigenous Veterans Commemoration Service, which is held on May 25 in Perth. The RSL does not formally commemorate the Frontier Wars.