The RSLWA has banned clubs from flying the Aboriginal flag and holding Welcome to Country ceremonies. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
The RSLWA has banned clubs from flying the Aboriginal flag and holding Welcome to Country ceremonies. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

RSL branch bans Aboriginal flag

THE Western Australian branch of the RSL has taken the extraordinary step of banning the Aboriginal flag and performance of welcome to country at its ceremonies honouring war heroes.

A report by the ABC today claimed that some RSL members last year were upset after an Aboriginal professor read the Ode of Remembrance, traditionally recited on Remembrance Day ceremonies, in an indigenous language last year.

The reading on last year's Anzac Day ceremony by Professor Len Collard in the Noongar language reportedly sparked the change in rules. Professor Collard had translated the Ode himself. Members told John McCourt, the chief executive of the RSLWA, that reading poem in another language wasn't appropriate.

 

The Aboriginal flag can no longer be flown an Anzac or Remembrance Day ceremonies at WA RSLs. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP
The Aboriginal flag can no longer be flown an Anzac or Remembrance Day ceremonies at WA RSLs. Picture: Mick Tsikas/AAP

 

A Welcome to Country at Fire Fight Australia. Picture: Cole Bennetts/Getty Images
A Welcome to Country at Fire Fight Australia. Picture: Cole Bennetts/Getty Images

After receiving complaints the RSLWA board developed new policies to control Anzac and Remembrance Day ceremonies held in the state.

"While having utmost respect for the traditional owners of land upon which such sites and memorials are located, 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 new policy reads.

The new policy includes guidelines that all content be delivered in English (except the New Zealand National Anthem); only flying the Australian, New Zealand and WA flags and; having no welcome to country ceremonies.

The policy, which outlines rules for the RSL's commemorations regarding "culture", recognises Australia as a diverse and multicultural nation, before going on to acknowledge a "trend among sectors of the Australian community to seek to include specific cultural and ethnic elements into major commemorative events" including Anzac and Remembrance Day.

"While it is important to recognise cultural and ethnic contributions to the defence of Australia, it is also important to maintain Anzac Day and Remembrance Day as occasions to express unity, a time when all Australians - irrespective of race, culture or religion - come together to remember and reflect."

A welcome to country is performed at the beginning of events in Australia to bring awareness about the traditional history and cultural owners of an area. A welcome to country is usually performed by an indigenous elder.

Mr McCourt said these ceremonies are only banned on Anzac and Remembrance Day.

"All the RSL is asking for is two days," he told the ABC.

He said the RSLWA "remains appalled" at the discriminatory treatment of indigenous Australians who returned after serving in World War I.