Up until [April 2023], the question of Welcome to Country had not been raised as part of either the Yes or No campaigns. But it is obvious that things were changing rapidly.
There are a great many people who cannot stand the Welcome to Country ritual foisted on gatherings at just about every public function they are likely to attend, from kindergarten performances at schools before a handful of parents and grandparents to football grand finals with crowds are in the tens of thousands. It’s not only the sentiments expressed that annoys listeners, who sometimes can be heard complaining that it is humiliating to be welcomed to your own country, as if you were an alien of some kind. It is also the obligation on every speaker at every public function to take up so much of its time.
And, above all, it is boring beyond belief to insert these essentially meaningless sentiments into occasions where there are no Aboriginal people present, and certainly none of the so-called “elders, past present and emerging” to receive the respectful accolade. Until this referendum, many people felt, but did not want to say aloud, that the Welcome to Country was offensive.
Now that the dust has settled, it is also clear that people can now more openly confess their feelings about these procedures and that the great majority of them — and certainly the 61 per cent of the population who voted No — wish the whole idea of changing Australian culture in favour of Aborigines is abandoned completely.
This is how [Marcia Langton, a professor of anthropology at the University of Melbourne] came to be the inadvertent author of a such a popular people’s movement. In her interview published in the magazine section of the Weekend Australian on April 8, 2023, Langton said:
I imagine that most Australians who are non-Indigenous, if we lose the referendum, will not be able to look me in the eye. How are they going to ever ask an Indigenous person, a Traditional Owner, for a welcome to country? How are they ever going to be able to ask me to come and speak at their conference? If they have the temerity to do it, of course the answer is going to be no.
When this was published, it gave great cheer to many voters. If the No vote wins, they will not have to sit through any more Welcome to Country ceremonies. …
By August 2023, headlines around Australia were promoting the idea openly. No campaigners decided to come clean and confess they were sick and tired of the ritual too.
At a rally for No voters in Melbourne Tony Abbott said he was “getting a little bit sick of Welcome to Country ceremonies.” He said he was getting tired of the ritual because Australia “belongs to all of us not just to some of us”. He was greeted with a standing ovation, rousing applause and cheers. …
Jacinta Price joined the fray, saying in an interview with The Australian: “the practice sent an unwelcoming message to the majority of Australians.” She connected the ritual to the main argument of the No case, arguing that it was yet another factor that divided the nation:
There is no problem with acknowledging our history, but rolling out these performances before every sporting event or public gathering is definitely divisive. It’s not welcoming, it’s telling non-Indigenous Australians “this isn’t your country” and that’s wrong. We are all Australians and we share this great land.
There were other symbols of this kind which have long been sitting ducks that emulate these patently insincere welcomes. For those of us in Sydney, the worst was the decision of NSW Premier Dominic Perrotet to take down the flag of the state, which is a near replica of the national flag, from the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge and substitute an Aboriginal flag.
Perrotet did this as a desperate gesture to increase his fading popularity in the lead up to state election on March 25, 2023. Instead, it provided a virtual guarantee that he would lose the election, which he did.
In fact, there are now audible mutterings among crowds at functions these days about the elevation of the Aboriginal flag to the centre of proceedings, displacing the national flag. This is another cultural phenomenon that politicians ignore at their peril. Prime Minister Albanese is a repeat offender. …
The same goes for the equally offensive movement to replace all the place names of major cities and regional centres in Australia, with Aboriginal names, as if we haven’t done enough in the past with the national capital named for the Kamberri clan, and countless others in towns and suburbs throughout the country. The most recent book by Megan Davis and Pat Anderson, Our Voices from the Heart, lists their current demands: Sydney is to become Warrane: Melbourne Naarm; Adelaide Tarndanya; Brisbane Meanjin; Hobart Nipaluna; Perth Boorloo; Darwin Garramilla; Cairns Gimuy; Broome Rubibi; Dubbo Thurbo; and so on.
Who do these people imagine they are? The referendum of October 14 has given them a good reminder. It has done more than show them that, even with the complete support of the governing Labor Party, they could only rustle up 39 per cent of the population to support them, while 61 per cent stood opposed to their big plan for constitutional change. It was also a referendum that tested popular support for dividing the country into two classes: in a way a modern loyalty test for Australia. It deserved to fail badly, and it did.