By Ciaran O’Mahony
The Aboriginal Flag is flying permanently in the heart of Dublin after a historic ceremony at the Australian Embassy in Ireland.
The embassy became the first Australian outpost to fly the flag year round – side by side with the Red Ensign.
Australia’s Ambassador to Ireland, Gary Gray, described the flag raising ceremony as “a statement of cultural recognition and respect” and an “accepted and understood symbol of unity.”
The Official Aboriginal Flag raising ceremony at the Australian Embassy in Ireland (Dublin). Source: AEI Social Media
Many Aboriginal Australians living in Ireland, Australia and other countries, watched the digital ceremony. Some who lived within a 5 km radius of the Embassy were allowed to watch it in person under Ireland’s current Covid-19 restrictions.
The flags had previously been on display inside the Embassy and officials felt that extending that presentation to the building’s exterior would be a natural and significant progression.
“We spoke with various representatives of the Australian government in Canberra as well as members of the Aboriginal community here in Ireland,” says Ambassador Gray.
“This engagement enabled us to fully appreciate the importance of recognition for many Irish-Australian Aboriginal people and made the decision very easy,” he says.
Ireland’s President, Michael D Higgins, congratulated the Embassy, while their Prime Minister Micheál Martin praised the event, tweeting that it was “a fitting way to respect and represent Australia’s past, present and future.”
Gray has been heartened by the positive local reaction and feels it’s indicative of the strength of Australia’s relationship with Ireland.
“The response from across Irish society has been unbelievably supportive,” he says.
Closer to home, Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Linda Burney, said of the ceremony – “Australia’s First Nations heritage is – and rightfully so – a source of pride at home and abroad. It is wonderful to see the Australian Embassy in Ireland demonstrate this with this simple and humble gesture.”
Although he was in virtual attendance, Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt, could not be reached for comment.
Aboriginal Activist and Academic, Mick Dodson, was delighted with the news, which had personal significance given his Irish heritage.
“I’m very stoked about the Aboriginal flag being flown over the Australian Embassy in Ireland,” says Dodson, whose Great-Grandparents came to Australia in the 1840s to escape the Great Famine.
“I’m very, very proud of my people, the Yawuru people, and I’m proud of my Irish ancestry.”
“There’s a strong connection between Aboriginal Australia and Ireland and there are many Aboriginal people of Irish descent in Australia,” Dodson says.
Professor Mick Dodson. Photo: Tracey Nearmy via Getty Images
Legendary artist Kev Carmody is another Aboriginal Australian with proud Irish roots. He believes the flag ceremony “reflects firstly and most importantly our Indigenous First Nations pride” and “represents cultural recognition and sovereignty on the International stage.”
Nevertheless, Dodson cautioned Australians to keep this gesture in perspective. “This is a wonderful thing that they’re flying the flag, but we shouldn’t lose focus. There’s a lot of hard work to be done yet.”
“We have to come to terms with that [colonial] past. We have to examine it truthfully and honestly, acknowledge it and do something about it – and then say this is the path forward, we’re going to repair that past for a better relationship in the future.”
Carmody agrees, stating that healing can only occur when Australia has fully confronted its dark past. “Pride for the richness of Indigenous Culture can be shared by all Australians and the rest of humanity if this is recognised,” Carmody says.
Greens Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe, acknowledged that the ceremony was a positive step, but contrasted it with the lack of cultural recognition at home.
“Where the Australian Government continues to deny the Blak history of these lands, I’m really pleased to see that the Australian Embassy in Ireland has done what so many allies across this country are doing, taking matters into their own hands by proudly flying the flags of this country in their workplace,” Thorpe says.
“Meanwhile it’s a constant struggle to get this Government to even acknowledge the Aboriginal history of these lands, right here on this continent,” she says.
Thorpe highlighted that while the Aboriginal flag is being raised by Australian embassies abroad, motions to raise the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island flags in the two houses of Federal Parliament have been rejected.
“I can’t say I was surprised when the Coalition Government recently voted down a motion to have the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags displayed in the Senate Chamber. It’s clear to me that they’re frightened of the truth, and of having their power and privilege challenged” says Thorpe.
Green Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe. Photo: Imran Ariff and Ciaran O’Mahony
“Ours is the oldest surviving living culture on Earth. I commend the Australian Embassy in Dublin for taking this important step, and encourage other Embassies and organisations here and abroad to think about what can be done to show solidarity with the First peoples of this country.”