ONE of the Riverina’s leading Aboriginal elders has backed Joe Williams’ right to stay seated as the national anthem played at Wagga’s Australia Day ceremony.
It comes as Wagga council moved to distance itself from one of its own councillors after he called on Williams to hand back his Citizen of the Year award for “disrespecting” the nation.
While saying he would stand for the national anthem, Stan Grant Sr said Williams was right to exercise individual choice.
“There’s a saying: ‘I might not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’,” he said.
“There is a fair bit of conjecture around the national anthem and if he feels it doesn’t represent him, he shouldn't be forced to his feet. It’s a personal decision.”
Dr Grant – the father of Stan Grant, who recently made headlines for his rousing speech on racism – said Williams was a leader caught between a rock and a hard place.
“If he does stand and sing the national anthem, he might upset some of his own people,” he said.
“And if he doesn’t stand, it upsets more people.”
Dr Grant said Williams’ mental health advocacy was to be admired.
“He is a natural leader and his stand on this shouldn’t take away from his achievements,” he said.
“The way my son spoke on this is exactly the way I feel.
“We’ve got some racial problems in Australia and it’s time we move forward together.”
Cr Paul Funnell hit the national airwaves on Thursday reiterating his stand on the Williams controversy, telling various media outlets the football star’s actions were divisive and against the interests of reconciliation.
A joint statement issued by Wagga council acting general manager Alan Eldridge and mayor Rod Kendall said Cr Funnell’s views were his own.
Williams, who has previously declared his intention to run at the next council election, also issued a statement urging people to recognise Australia’s “brutal history”.
“Australia Day for me is symbolic of that injustice and reflects Australia’s dark history,” he said. “If Australia Day is for everyone then surely it is everyone's choice how they acknowledge and pay tribute to this day.
“It was my choice as an Aboriginal man to acknowledge and respect my ancestors by not singing a song that is not representative of my people or me.”