Wurundjeri elder Aunty Joy Murphy says she was dumped from giving a Welcome to Country at former US president Barack Obama’s Melbourne show by tour organisers and told she was too difficult.
In a statement on Wednesday, the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation said Growth Faculty, the organisers of Obama’s Wednesday night event, had caused “deep offence to the Wurundjeri people and to all First Nations people” after Murphy was dropped from the event.
The Indigenous group said Murphy was thrilled to agree to give a Welcome to Country at John Cain Arena, but asked for a support person to come with her and requested to present a gift to Obama, as is cultural practice.
She was then told she was being “too difficult” and was removed from proceedings, her representatives said.
The Age has attempted to contact Growth Faculty for a response to the allegations, which have not been independently verified.
Murphy said in a statement she was shocked at and distressed by the way she had been treated by event organisers.
“I am 78 years of age. I have never been treated or spoken to in this way in the past,” she said.
“I do not want this to be a reflection on President Obama. I am a leader of the Wurundjeri Nation. I asked to be treated as an equal.”
Murphy has also been removed from giving traditional cultural protocols at a business lunch with Obama on Thursday, her representatives said.
Obama is in Australia for a whirlwind speaking tour with shows in Melbourne and Sydney alongside former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop. The 44th president warned of the dangers of artificial intelligence and polarised media, and took a swipe at News Corp chairman Rupert Murdoch in a wide-ranging discussion during his first show in Sydney.
Murphy has regularly given the Welcome to Country at major events in Melbourne, welcoming both Nelson Mandela and the Queen to Wurundjeri land.
“The Welcome to Country is a very important ceremony for our people. It is an honour to welcome people like President Obama, and I’m upset that I am unable to do this today,” Murphy said.
“The Wurundjeri people are saddened that we cannot welcome former president Obama to our lands. This has caused grief that the community will be left to deal with long after Mr Obama has left Australia.”
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.