TAMWORTH’S NAIDOC Week march has been restored to its original route, following growing concern within the Indigenous community and talk of a protest march.
The march had been reduced to one block and was due to start at the Fitzroy plaza on Friday, despite normally starting at Viaduct Park – a tradition stretching back decades.
Concerns were raised following The Leader’s story last week.
Oxley Chief Inspector Jeff Budd, who contacted a number of people within the Aboriginal community, had no hesitation in switching the march back to its traditional route.
He said two options were presented to the NAIDOC Committee, with the committee picking the shorter option to cater for Elders, people with disabilities and the elderly.
However, a breakdown in communication between the committee and the local community left many in the dark.
“Certainly there were some people who weren’t happy with it,” Chief Inspector Budd said.
“They felt the traditional track had been changed without consultation. Unfortunately the message hasn’t got back to the community. The only time it was mentioned is when it came out in The Leader.
“Next year, we’ll look more closely at how [the march] actually fits in.”
The potential protest march, which would have stepped off from Viaduct Park, sparked personal conflict for some within the Indigenous community. Many were torn between defending their right to walk the traditional route, while concerned the protest would overshadow the NAIDOC celebrations.
Gomeroi Dance Company co-founder Marc Sutherland said there had been a great deal of angst in the local Indigenous community since the news broke.
“People are passionate about their heritage, and knowing through the history of Aboriginal progress it’s been a hard fight,” Mr Sutherland said.
“When something like this comes up, it can really feel like a threat to the progress that's been made.”
Mr Sutherland commended the quick decision from Chief Inspector Budd, but said the situation was a “double-sided coin”.
“It’s great to see the process happened so quickly, but also it’s a reminder of our constant fight to make sure we are seen as equal, that our march is on par with the other marches that happen in town,” he said.
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Gomeroi Dance Company co-founder Brad Flanders said he was angry when he heard the march had been reduced.
“Shortening it from a march to a walk around the block doesn’t represent how strong we are,” he said.
“Our old people who fought for this were lucky to walk down the main street. To try and hide us away again was such a hurt to us.”
However, he was “over the moon” with the quick resolution.
“It shows the power of our voice within the community,” Mr Flanders said.
Story continues after the video.
Tamworth mayor Col Murray said the resolution was “democracy at work”.
“We need to learn from these sort of circumstances,” Cr Murray said.
“Since that decision has hit the airwaves, I think it’s created a bit of concern.
“There’s been some very mature discussions going on, and it’s very appropriate that the decision has been made to hold the march from Viaduct Park.”
While the shorter route would “always be an option”, Cr Murray said the concerns raised by the broader Aboriginal community showed the desire to keep the Viaduct Park step off point.
“I would be very happy with that in to the future,” he said.