Fly the flag: Atkinson

April 13, 2017

WOLITHIGA elder Professor Henry Atkinson is calling on the Echuca CFA to fly the Aboriginal flag.

WOLITHIGA elder Professor Henry Atkinson is calling on the Echuca CFA to fly the Aboriginal flag after it failed to hold a Welcome to Country at last month’s fire station opening.

In October 2015, CFA former chief officer Euan Ferguson wrote a memorandum stating ‘‘it is expected that from the start of 2016 that every new station opening will include a traditional Welcome to Country and/or smoking ceremony conducted by the local Aboriginal traditional owner group’’.

The recommendation is part of the CFA Koori Inclusion Action Plan, which Prof. Atkinson is an advisor for.

Saying the CFA was not to blame, Prof Atkinson said certain members of the Echuca brigade did not take any notice of the directive.

‘‘We’ve done a lot of work for inclusion in this action plan to open the doors for indigenous people to be able to be part of a great organisation like the CFA,’’ he said.

Fellow Wolithiga elder Uncle Rick Ronnan, who has held hundreds of smoking ceremonies around the district, said it was disheartening and disappointing after so much good work had been achieved in regards to race relations.

‘‘I was asked to do a smoking ceremony for the Australasian Championships but not for my own hometown?,’’ he said.

A former Echuca Fire Brigade member, joining as a young boy in 1954, Prof. Atkinson said although a last-minute invitation was issued, it was too late and disrespectful to the Aboriginal community.

‘‘If Echuca (fire brigade) really wants to make amends, fly the Aboriginal flag,’’ he said.

‘‘We can also make sure other brigades don’t do the same thing ... I don’t want to see things go backwards.’’

On Monday, Prof. Atkinson received a letter from CFA chief executive Frances Diver who said she and chief officer Steve Warrington were extremely disappointed at the oversight and apologised for the mistake.

‘‘Let me assure you, the procedure instituted by former chief officer Euan Ferguson that all new fire station openings should include a Welcome to Country and or/smoking ceremony is still firmly in place,’’ she wrote.

‘‘The chief officer and I would like to seek your advice on how the CFA can continue to improve, so as to meet our commitment to be an inclusive organisation.’’

Echuca Fire Brigade secretary Ron Hooper was contacted for comment but he referred the Riv to CFA district 20 operations manager John Cutting.

Mr Cutting said it was an oversight that it attempted to rectify.

‘‘We will be talking to the brigade about how better to determine inclusiveness but we are also mindful it’s a two-way street,’’ he said.

‘‘Local elders and CFA members need to engage with each other so we can move forward,’’ he said.

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