Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill: the nays have it 


p2143-Anzac-Hill-flags-3By KIERAN FINNANE
Anzac Hill, apart from its war memorial, substantially expanded in recent years, carries a road, two car parks, stairways, a large viewing area, railings, seating, tourist information panels and the Australian and NT flags, but adding the Aboriginal flag is a step too far for conservative councillors.
Mayor Damien Ryan, Deputy Mayor Jamie de Brenni, Councillors Jacinta Price, Glen Auricht and Matt Paterson last night indicated that they will vote down Cr Catherine Satour’s compromise motion that council permit “on ceremonial occasions” the Aboriginal flag to be flown on the hill.
From the discussion it seems that such “ceremonial occasions” would be on days of particular importance to Aboriginal people. One might imagine these to include National Sorry Day and NAIDOC week.
Mayor Ryan, who largely drove the recent expansion of the war memorial on and around the hill (see below left), cannot see past its role in remembering members of the armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
He welcomes the Aboriginal flag flying outside the Civic Centre, which alongside the other flags flying there “clearly represents what council is working for, the whole community, and also it shows respect for the Aboriginal people.” But no word of recognition for Anzac Hill as a sacred site for Arrernte people passed his lips. This is despite him, at the start of every Ordinary Meeting of council, acknowledging  the Central Arrernte people as the traditional owners and custodians of the town.
p2508 Council Anzac HillA stumbling block – or might it be called a pretext? – for those councillors opposed to flying the flag is the lack of response on the issue from Lhere Artepe, the native title holders organisation.
Despite repeated approaches from council on the issue, going back to 2014, the organisation has remained mute, as it has on many other approaches from council over the years.
In contrast, with Cr Satour doing the groundwork, 16 traditional owners (a not insignificant number) turned up to a meeting with councillors last Thursday and all of them supported the idea of the Aboriginal flag flying on the hill.
Cr Satour had included Lhere Artepe in her invitation as well as approaching, more fruitfully, the IAD Senior Men and Senior Women’s groups and the Akeyulerre Healing Centre.
On Cr Price’s suggestion, Arrernte woman Nicole Laughton was also invited and attended.
Not good enough for Crs Auricht, de Brenni and Price.
Cr Auricht needs the “legal” tick from Lhere Artepe and the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority, even though AAPA has already said it does not have a view on the matter. Its offer to display a letter from council on the subject in its Alice Springs office, allowing interested custodians to see it and reply, has never been taken up.
Cr de Brenni preferred his personal consultations with local people, including unnamed “Eastern Arrernte and Western Arrernte people”, to reach the conclusion that the community “isn’t comfortable” with the flag proposal.
p2508 Council Price 450Cr Price, who was in the chair for this discussion, said she understood from senior man Peter Wallace that the hill is a women’s Dreaming site and she was concerned that not all the women who hold those Dreamings have been consulted.
Right: Cr Price, in the chair, showing her hand against the motion. 
Further, the Aboriginal flag is a symbol for all Aboriginal peoples and other Aboriginal groups haven’t been consulted.
She also said the people attending last Thursday’s meeting are not elected representatives for other Aboriginal people (apparently some said they were speaking on behalf of others who could not attend).
She would like to see the Aboriginal flag flying 365 days a year in a prominent place in Alice Springs but not on Anzac Hill as it is “too divisive”.
Cr Paterson read aloud a letter from an Indigenous friend in the Army who says he serves under the Australian flag, not the Aboriginal flag, and who is also of the view that flying the Aboriginal flag on the hill would not contribute to overcoming the divisions in town.
Cr Paterson said the letter showed that not all Indigenous people support flying the flag on the hill, although “probably a majority do”.
p2508 Council flag Cocking 450Cr Satour could see the writing on the wall, but nonetheless outlined with quiet gravity the case she sees for flying the flag: it would be not only in recognition of the site as sacred to the Arrernte; it would recognise the service of a lot of Aboriginal people who fought in Australia’s overseas conflicts even before they were recognised as citizens; it would also recognise the frontier wars, “incredibly under-discussed and a true part of our history”; and it would open doors to understanding and reconciliation in the community.
She also described it as “a vehicle to get onto bigger issues”. She said local traditional owners very much want to take leadership to address those bigger issues, including alcohol, youth crime and anti-social behaviour.
Cr Cocking, who had canvassed the views of people through social media (see post at left) and encountered only one opposing, couldn’t see how council could fail to acknowledge the hill as a sacred site and not take up the opportunity to engage with the Aboriginal community, including with their war history, when so many Aboriginal diggers were disrespected and treated unequally in the past.
Cr Melky saw flying the flag  as an opportunity for “good will”, a way of teaming up with the Indigenous community, getting closer to creating middle ground in the community between Aboriginal and other people: “We’re too far apart now.”
As the discussion went on, views became slightly more heated. Cr Cocking challenged council’s support for the national Indigenous art gallery / culture centre concepts when it can’t even put a flag on Anzac Hill. He suggested council was failing to offer leadership.
Cr de Brenni responded that no doubt “a massive Indigenous flag” will fly from atop the cultural centre, from where the whole town will see it.
Mayor Ryan resented that Cr Cocking, at last Thursday’s meeting, wouldn’t even mention other people (non-Aboriginal) who had fought in Australia’s wars.
Cr Satour challenged this: she said Cr Cocking was “incredibly respectful of all who had fought”, “our heroes” – as is she, as is everyone.
MLA Chansey Paech was in the gallery to watch this debate. Outside he described it as something of a “groundhog day”, referring to how the issue panned out during his time as councillor. He is confident though that one day, perhaps in the next council, this will change and council will embrace flying the Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill.
The evolution of Cr Melky’s views on the issue lends support to this confidence: he said he had “struggled” when it came up in 2011-12, but he is of a “clear mind” now, it would be “a very good decision” for council to make.
Note: Cr Marli Banks was absent for last night’s meeting, on personal leave.


  1. We are one country yes, but we have more than one national flag and we have multiple jurisdictions with differing laws, sometimes overlapping. According to Australian law we have the Blue Flag, the Aboriginal Flag, and the Torres Strait Islander flag. The Flag Act of 1953 also describes the red version of the national flag, to be used for non Commonwealth Government purposes.

  2. I have previously supported here the flying of the Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill but acknowledge that doing so raises issues and potential problems. First, and perhaps most importantly there needs to be clear majority support, not a simple majority in either the community or indeed the council or RSL. Secondly it would need an understanding in my mind that this does not raises further expectations for the Torres Strait flag or for that matter any others. Central Australia is simply not the Top End. One should not imply the other for reasons of political correctness. Perhaps my greatest concern is that the Aboriginal flag may be used for political purposes with attempts to have it flying at half-mast whenever it suits vested interests. This would be a disaster for reconciliation.
    It seems a ‘no brainer’ that here in the centre of Aboriginal Australia that it is most appropriate to fly the flag that represents the oldest culture in our nation. Yes, the national flag does this too. I do not see any contradictions in acknowledging the ancient Aboriginal presence in our region. The argument that we should hoist just a single flag seems to imply that the NT flag should not be flown either. Each has a different purpose nor diminishes the other.
    Considering all the above I am not convinced that we are sufficiently mature to embrace that in the words of Bruce Woodley of ‘The Seekers’ and Dobe Newton of ‘The Bushwackers’ that “We are one ….. We are many ….. We are Australian!”. Perhaps on reflection it’s not such a great idea at this time ’till we grow up.

  3. Both ATSI Flags should be and will be flying there soon. The right groups will support this soon. We are not asking to replace any current flags nor disrespect the ANZAC Memorial. We are simply asking to fly the flags to acknowledge ATSI People and ATSI Land.

  4. Crikey, what a whacky decision. Makes Alice look just like how many people in our country perceive it. And makes the Council look like drongoes. But I live in hope, been re-watching ‘Grassroots’ lately, the Mayor always meant well, but became known as Col ‘U-turn’ Dunkley as ‘circumstances changed’ Let’s hope circumstances change here too. Hopefully not everyone positioning for preselection for higher office.

  5. Why not wack a big Aboriginal Flag on another hill or even a huge one on the Mountain. ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, we are all one. There were many nationalities that fought under our flag and this monument celebrates them all!
    Adding more flags will just encourage the divide to grow, we need to come together as one.

  6. Harold Thomas’ opinion would be interesting. I’m sure he would see his creation as a symbol of unity and welcome.
    All fair dinkum Australians want unity and harmony. The views of the originators of the ‘Welcome to Country’ idea, Ernie Dingo and Richard Wally, would also be illuminating

  7. It is important when dealing with issues that stir emotions and threaten to deepen the divides in our community that we remember and respect that we are One Nation called Australia. That we are a Democracy! We regard all our citizens as equals! In a democracy decisions fall in favour of the Majority, regardless of race, gender or religion.
    Separate recognition is not respect! It is a continuation of, a deepening of, the Politics of Apartheid and Victimhood.
    Nothing, but greater and greater division will come of it!
    No good ever comes from Apartheid.
    Only the institutionalised acceptance of lower standards and less expectation, for those on the wrong side of it.
    Previously as a Councillor and Political Candidate I was approached time and time again by locals of Aboriginal background, Aussies who are sick to death of division who just want to get on with their lives just like the rest of us, stating that they do not want to see separate flags flying on Anzac Hill because that sends the message that they aren’t accepted as Australians.
    I am also aware of Councillor DeBrenni and other efforts to consult widely on this front, checking the views of many locals Aboriginal and non-alike, making sure that their views are expressed clearly in Council.
    Many local families don’t wish others to know their views as in a small town it can lead to family infighting as we have witnessed firsthand with a small group of locals attacking views expressed by Councillor Price. They rely heavily on their Elected Representatives to put forward their view and to stand up for them.
    This whole flag flying issue was instigated by Labor MLA Chansey Paech its only intent to create disruption dissent and division its only intent to divert attention from his failure to stand up for our Community while once again it comes apart under a Labor Government.
    The ladies who approached Council did so with a letter about respect reconciliation and working together. There was no mention whatsoever of flying flags, nor was it mentioned by Catherine Satour when presenting the letter. From events later in the evening it came to the fore that the letter was actually apart of an attack on Councillor Price because of her expressed views on the very things that should also be of great concern to these ladies.

  8. The hill has been Untyeyetwelye to the Arrernte people for thousands of years. According to Peter Donovan (who wrote ‘Alice Springs, its history and the people who made it’ for the Town Council, published 1988) in the early days of European settlement the townspeople called it ‘View Hill’, and later ‘Stott Hill’. The RSL was granted ‘rights’ to the hill in 1934 by government, not by the Traditional Owners. The RSL then named it ‘Anzac Hill’.
    Of course this was done at a time when Aboriginal people were unwelcome in the town, they were shunted down to ‘The Gap’, or confined to missions. Surely we have moved on since then? Is it so hard to envisage that the hill could serve both as war memorial and a symbol of the changed relations between our Indigenous people and our European settlers? It is more than strange that the capital city of The Centre, the heartland of the desert peoples, does not fly the Aboriginal Flag from the hill the overlooks our town.

  9. What’s hilarious is that the Walpiri connection can go to the council meeting, carry on and spit on the ground. Not a word from the Arrernte. But the minute a flag on a hill is mentioned …

  10. To those who voted against it, thank you. I for one believe that the Australian flag up there and Territory one next to it symbolises all Australians from the Territory that served.
    Yes, Aboriginal servicemen had a hard time returning home from service, but so did our Vietnam diggers, of all races.
    I suppose that change will come one day, but for the councillors that voted against it represented my point of view, so thank you, your efforts are appreciated.

  11. @James T Smerk. Conjecture on the appropriate hill to fly the Aboriginal flag is intriguing. Anzac Hill is the highest hill in the heart of the town of Alice which has a majority non-Aboriginal permanent population on my understanding of the urban stats. Spencer Hill and Billygoat Hill are in town too.
    The two high points on the MacDonnell Range either side of the Stuart Highway as you come through The Gap or even Mt Gillen would seem to me to be a better place more representative of the bigger traditional Aboriginal population of Central Australia outside the immediate built-up town precincts. Harold’s view on this would be interesting. Certainly, these latter places would help to defuse the highly contentious debate around the commemoration of the fallen on Anzac Day.

  12. Get with the times will yous. Mr Thomas would have loved to see the Flag up on Anzac Hill. It’s everywhere. That is his legacy. It’s 2018 put the ignorance aside. You want harmony restored in the town or not? Agreeing to put the Aboriginal Flag up there will be a good start. Anyway it’s not like Arrernte need anyone’s permission. Always was and always will be Arrernte Land.

  13. @ Concerned Arrernte Man: If you were indeed a concerned Arrernte “man” you would use your real name, like a man, so that we locals know what your word is worth.
    What I suspect is that you aren’t local at all. We are trying to put our town together not rip it apart, your intention is clearly the opposite.
    Anzac Hill was sincerely and solemnly dedicated by TOs many years ago to the purpose which it serves respectfully to this day.
    It was and remains a joint community effort, if indeed you are a Arrernte man you would do well to respect and to learn from the decisions of your elders.

  14. @ Steve Brown (Posted February 16, 2018 at 10:02 am): I’m interested to know, Steve, when it was that TO’s dedicated Anzac Hill for the purpose it now serves as a war memorial? The memorial was first dedicated on Anzac Day, 1934, and as far as I’m aware local Aboriginal people had no involvement in it. Is there a subsequent occasion when this matter was addressed?

  15. Steve Brown I am one of many who comment on the Alice Springs News using an alias. This is what we love about the Alice Springs News. It gives a chance to have fair go and see if you are any good at it or if it’s for you. Thanks Alice Springs News.
    Also Mr Brown if you don’t want to tear the town any further apart why did you also post your essay below on the most divisive social media page ever seen in Alice Springs? (I am not talking about the Alice Springs News)
    I will let you know if and when I choose to reveal my identity. Clearly you are so curious.
    I am definitely a local Arrernte, I definitely reflect the views of the local Arrerntes.
    For the time being I will now be known as “Phantom Arrernte”. Oh and yeah, both ATSI Flags are gonna fly on Anzac Hill sooner or later.

  16. War memorial on a women’s sacred site: Does this describe the Alice Springs community? Wars kill while women bear and rear children.
    May be Anzac Hill should be given back to the rightful custodians and the wars memorial shifted on the council lawns unless the Arrernte women agree that we keep the site but recognise them with a flag.

  17. @ Evelyne Roullet. I bet that the late Mrs Joan Higgins, a WW2 nurse who nursed the wounded in Alice, and whose Youth Centre sits under the shade of ANZAC Hill where so many town kids came together for sport, would be looking down and smiling on your beaut idea.

  18. John Bell, I am certain she smiles at me, but she also cries when she looks down onto the Youth Center.
    I quote Erwin Chandla “town’s kids – black and white – mingled there, became friends. This was so too for this writer’s four children raised in Alice Springs.” And I add for my four children who created great friendships there.

  19. @ Evelyne Roullet. Yes. Could not agree more.
    Used to meet Mrs Higgins at the gate, every year, at the sports on Bangtail Muster Day and at the gate at Traeger Park, for 31 years.
    Wonderful memories of a great lady who put her heart and soul into all the kids of Alice. The Youth Centre and the Gap Centre. Great places.

  20. The deep connection can only be discussed by the few traditional owners of Anzac Hill.
    The history of how it is today is the fact of past government decisions. The flag issues stems deep on varied platforms.
    Those who have served (including myself) may have many blood lines, cultures and countries of origin. The current Australian flag represents the southern hemisphere and England. So does the multicultural Australia of today represent this. Here is my fact and thoughts.
    My Grandfather served in WW2, my father served in the Australian Army and I served with both the Australian Army and Navy. I served with service men and women of different heritage from all over the world, not just England.
    I am the first generation from my mother’s skin not forced to live on an official camp, and I do walk proud of my mother’s Indigenous skin. I also walk proud of my Father’s skin (born here), his great grandfather being of Dutch skin heritage.
    I served under the current Australian flag and it meant nothing to me. My fellow servicemen and women whilst I served meant everything to me. The ground that my toes sink into here when I walk on our country mean everything to me. For what it is worth, everybody has the right to have an opinion and this country needs to find its way together.
    I love my Aboriginal flag with every inch of my body. I would also love to love an Australian flag with every inch of my body, but I do not and I do not have English heritage. I am not the only one in this country of 24 million without English heritage either.
    There are 3 generations in my family that have served this country without an ounce of the Union Jack history in our bloodline. I toured twice and gave my all and it was not for our flag.
    So my argument is: we need a flag for all of us that love this country with every vein in our body. Then maybe both flags can fly in harmony. And maybe, just maybe, Anzac Hill and Anzac Day can become a deeper understood collective history for all of us. (I apologise if I have offended anyone regarding our current flag but that’s my view).

  21. @ My Opinion, posted 20.2.18. 12:22pm:
    I’m an amateur historian, but there’s an argument that the geo-political climate that caused Great Britain to raise the Union Jack over what became the colonies turned out to Australia’s advantage. At least, wisdom in hindsight suggests it so.
    Indigenous or First Nations people suffered beyond measure and today assert a form of sovereignty through a limited Native Title that is not altogether historically retroactive, leading to social issues bundled together under slogans such as Closing the Gap.
    There is always a relative unity among all peoples constituting a nation, but what seems undeniable is that united we stand, divided we fall.
    Councils around the country fly the Aboriginal flag, but not, it seems, all that often from military sites, which still serve to unite a country in a geo-political sense, most often concerned with sovereign borders.
    The social problems remain, so do other strategic sites from which the Aboriginal flag can be flown as a symbol of unity within the Alice community.

  22. Get back to basics. Anzac Hill represents all Australians fighting in the wars under the Australian flag. Get it right. No extras added.

  23. Kathy. You say no extras added and back to the basics. Why was an Anzac memorial added to the hill which basically was and still is a significant Arrernte Site? Regardless as mentioned many times throughout this debate we don’t want the Anzac component removed, we just want ATSI Flags flying somewhere on the hill as well.

  24. @ Concerned Arrernte, @ Evelyne Roullet, @ Kathy: At the heart of the issue is the ceremony on Anzac Day.
    Until all of us can come to an amicable agreement on how many flags to fly – and lower – at the dawn service, then perhaps the traditional Aussie ceremony can be transferred to say outside the Council Chambers. The Arrernte people then have a choice. They could continue with the one on Anzac Hill, or join in with the one on the lawns.


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