The organisers of former US president Barack Obama’s speaking event in Melbourne have apologised for stopping Indigenous elder Aunty Joy Murphy Wandin AO from performing a Welcome to Country ceremony at the event.
- Aunty Joy Murphy was prevented from performing a Welcome to Country at an event with Barack Obama in Melbourne
- The company organising the event says it could not accommodate last minute changes due to security
- The organisers have apologised and invited Aunty Joy to perform a Welcome to Country at a business lunch with Mr Obama
The senior Wurundjeri elder was asked to open Wednesday night’s sold-out event, but the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation said event organisers, Growth Faculty, removed her from proceedings amid claims she was being “too difficult”.
The corporation said Aunty Joy, 78, had requested “weeks in advance” to bring a support person to the event, and “to present Mr Obama with the gift of a gum leaf as is custom in Wurundjeri culture”.
In a statement, Aunty Joy said she accepted the apology from Growth Faculty and was looking forward to welcoming the former president.
“Although it saddens me to think that I had to go through the events of yesterday, I’m happy that Aboriginal culture has been given appropriate recognition,” she said.
“It will be my great pleasure to welcome the first black American president to Wurundjeri Country on behalf of my community and ancestors.”
In a statement Growth Faculty said it had apologised to Aunty Joy and invited her to perform a Welcome to Country at a business lunch with Mr Obama today.
“Growth Faculty holds deep respect for Australia’s Traditional Owners and is proud to be hosting events this week on the lands of the Wurundjeri people,” the statement said.
“Growth Faculty had been working with Aunty Joy and the Wurundjeri community for many weeks ahead of last night’s event.
“Due to security requirements, the organisation was unable to accommodate last minute changes to the agreed upon ceremony.”
A Welcome to Country was delivered by Wurundjeri-Willam woman Mandy Nicholson at last night’s event at John Cain Arena.
CEO of the Wurundjeri Woi-wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation Donald Betts accused Growth Faculty of cultural insensitivity for cancelling Aunty Joy’s appearance.
“She really wanted to welcome [former president Obama] home and let him know that he’s on land that the Wurundjeri people are custodians of and First Nations custodians are responsible for all people on their land,” he told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“For her to then be rejected, to say that she was too difficult for asking for minimal accommodation, I think that was a little culturally insensitive.”
Mr Betts said Growth Faculty’s explanation, that they could not accommodate last-minute arrangements for security reasons, did not hold water.
“Those changes, if the organisation was aware of cultural protocols, should have been included in the first place,” he said.
“They expressed their apologies then they welcomed her back so they’ve made accommodations at the last minute.”
Aunty Joy Murphy will deliver the Welcome to Country at the business lunch at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre and the ABC understands she will also present Mr Obama with a gift.