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Council debates Welcome to Country and guest speaker fees for community social event

April 15, 2024

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story named Uncle Neil Ingram as the Wiradjuri Elder to give the Welcome to Country, as per Orange City Council papers. We have spoken to Uncle Neil this morning (Wednesday) and he says he knows nothing about this event, and is extremely upset that his name has been included. We unreservedly apologise to Uncle Neil Ingram.

By David Fitzsimons

A $500 fee to provide a Welcome to Country ceremony for a mental health/suicide prevention community event has raised concerns in Orange.

Orange City Council last night considered providing nearly $2,000 to the Amend Project, run by Lewis Bird, for a "Remembering Our Mates" candlelight barbecue social event on May 8, which is focussed on men’s mental health and suicide prevention.

While council ultimately approved the funding, questions were raised about why a quarter of the costs listed by the organiser were for a Welcome to Country fee, and why a fee of $250 was to be paid for an unnamed local speaker.

The request said the $500 was for “Welcome/Acknowledgement to Country".

Councillor Tony Mileto questioned why the fees had not been waived for such an event, and whether the organiser had requested waivers.

Lewis Bird, pictured here working for The Amend Project, addressed councillors during the meeting. Facebook.

“I would think that $500 for a Welcome to Country, whilst I understand the importance of it, suicide/mental health affects a lot of people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in society,” he said.

“I’m just wondering whether the applicant made any representation or enquiry with the organisation, or the organisations that provide a Welcome to Country, to find out whether they were interested in wavering those fees. Same as the speaker, $250.”

“I would have liked to have thought that anybody who was part of this type of event may have considered helping out in some way.”

Councillor Steve Peterson said he was also concerned about the fees being charged to the event organiser.

“A third of the total cost is the cost of the Welcome to Country and speaker. And given the topic of men’s mental health, the organisers may have found people willing to volunteer their time and contribute to the cause,” he said.

However, councillor Melanie McDonell said it was right to charge a fee for a Welcome to Country ceremony.

“I don’t think we should ever expect First Nations to do Acknowledgement or Welcome to Country for free,” she said. “Never ceded the land. I think that’s a very inappropriate thing to suggest.”

Councillor Jeff Whitton said he was concerned council was breaching policy by funding a group that did not comply with a “not-for-profit” category.

Also at council last night:

  • Council backed plans for a proposed Aqua Park at Lake Canobolas, which would feature inflatable water play devices. Council will work with a developer to put the plan to Cabonne Shire Council, which controls the area.

  • A controversial housing development in Cadogan Crescent was approved despite opposition from neighbours. Councillors argued that it complied with legal and planning rules.

  • And a $3.9 million housing development on Icely Road at Emu Swamp was approved.



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