Letter request denied by Mayor

REPRESENTATION MATTERS: Mayor Des Noll will proceed with an Acknowledgement of Country statement at next week's ANZAC Day ceremony.

Wattle Range Council Mayor Des Noll has spoken out after receiving a request that he not include an Acknowledgement of Country at a local Anzac Day service.

He said he was shocked to receive a letter from the RSL Millicent sub-branch requesting he not include an Acknowledgement of Country at the beginning of his address this year.

“It’s really important as a community and a community representative that I represent all community and an Acknowledgement of Country is about community representation,” Mr Noll said.

“It’s important because those Indigenous servicemen and women served this great country in a time of need, and helped defend our freedoms and democracy that serve us well today.

“It’s vitally important that we recognize that and especially at an Anzac Day service.

Mr Noll said the Millicent RSL sub-branch had told him the reason for the request was in their interpretation of the state RSL by-laws.

“Their by-laws don’t apply to me nor does the Constitution, it’s totally silent on the Acknowledgement of Country around invited guests and speakers,” he said.

“I will be doing an Acknowledgement of Country at the ANZAC Day service and the Millicent RSL sub-branch have recognized that and have now invited me to do that.”

The letter, dated April 2 2024, was a formal invite to the Mayor asking him to address the community at the ANZAC Day mid morning service.

It recommended Mayor Noll outline the history of one of the region’s fallen, or an associated topic, as the subject of his address.

And further stated “The only request with your address the RSL Millicent askes (sic) you not to include your usual ‘Welcome to Country’ at the beginning of your address, this will be done if the president of the RSL decides will be done at the very beginning of the service.”

The letter was signed by the secretary of the RSL Millicent sub-branch, Richard Taylor.

The unexpected request led to the mayor contacting the CEO of Reconciliation SA, Jason Downs, and Limestone Coast Landscape Board First Nations Partnerships engagement coordinator David New for advice and perspective.

Mr Downs said the request was “disappointing”.

“As the CEO for a not for profit organisation focussed on reconciliation in bringing the Aboriginal community and the wider South Australian community together I find it disappointing that an organisation that is well respected would take a position that doesn’t allow for some cultural respect and cultural protocols to be observed,” Mr Downs said.

“Des reached out to me when he received the letter to seek perspective on current protocols and calibrate his perspective.

“I reinforced his concerns and congratulated him for reaching out to us, seeking to understand and be educated.

“To me that is the sign of leadership and that is what we would hope, by and large, that all leaders would do.

“Seek advice rather than take a position which is uninformed.

“I would like to acknowledge and thank Des for his authentic leadership and living the values of reconciliation and asking for advice and perspective and encourage other mayors in the region and across the state to think about engaging and embracing in conversations around First Nations and doing better.

“Reconciliation SA extends its hand to the Millicent RSL for a conversation around deepening their understanding.

“We are here as an organisation to help people learn and grow.”

At this month’s WRC meeting the letter was included on the agenda and received and noted.

A second letter received from Mr Taylor on April 5 with additional information noting RSL by-laws and the Constitution was not included on the agenda due to the agenda already being printed.

But a copy was printed and available to all who attended the meeting and this letter was also received and noted.

After discussion councillor David Walshaw moved a motion that Mayor Noll undertake the Acknowledgement of Country at the 11 am Millicent Anzac Day Service on behalf of council.

The motion was seconded by councillor John Drew and passed in an 8/2 vote.

Millicent RSL sub-branch were contacted for comment.

The letter used the term Welcome to Country which is a ceremony performed by Traditional Custodians on their ancestral land.

An Acknowledgement of Country, unlike a Welcome to Country, can be delivered by a First Nations person or non-Indigenous person.

Mr Noll says an Acknowledgement of County at the beginning of all council meetings and all public events he is invited to speak at.