On March 15, the gaze of world’s media focussed on Grafton, following one of its former citizens allegedly killing 51 Muslims in Christchurch, New Zealand.
As a result, the mayor, Jim Simmons, called an extraordinary Clarence Valley Council (CVC) meeting where councillors resolved to “open a ‘Book of Condolence’ to the citizens of Christchurch for Clarence Valley residents to sign”, approved the “mayor and general manager to attend a memorial service in Christchurch at the appropriate time and present the book” to Christchurch’s mayor and “explore locations in the Grafton area for a permanent memorial to be erected to recognise the tragic events of 15 March 2019”.
On May 29, the Independent wrote in the story – ‘Creating harmony will be a challenge’ – that the Grafton community faced a dilemma: How does it deal with the aftermath?
Since that extraordinary meeting there has not been any further public action by CVC.
Mayor Jim Simmons said: “As far as I know CVC officers are organising to have the book bound, to be ready to be delivered to the council in New Zealand.”
He said he would look further into what progress was being made, regarding decisions made at the March extraordinary CVC meeting and that he understood a report would be tabled at a forthcoming CVC meeting.
In the meantime some citizens, who were inspired by how “the people of the Clarence Valley … came together in support of everyone affected by the massacre”, have started a movement towards creating a more inclusive Clarence Valley.
As a starting point the group has created a document, The Inclusive Clarence Declaration, which, to date, has been signed by a significant number of civic leaders.
The declaration states: “We the undersigned proudly express our good fortune in being part of the Clarence Valley community.
“…We acknowledge and pay respect to the Elders, past, present and future, of the Bundjalung, Gumbaynggirr and Yaegl nations whose lands and cultures are traditional owners of the Clarence.
“We are proud to be part of a community that demonstrates compassion, decency and country hospitality in the face of challenges.
“Rural regions and towns are more vulnerable to damage from media reports than our big city cousins are: our smaller populations increase the likelihood of greater sharing and experience of the intensity of tragic events and our smaller economies have less inertia to carry them through possible financial impacts.
“We want the World to know: We have no tolerance for extremism, hate speech, racism or bigotry.
“We reject the divisive and destructive nature of such extremes and encourage All People to share this outlook, to embrace a better world based on mutual respect that transcends ethnicity, religious beliefs and skin colour.
“We respect and encourage diversity and multiculturalism.
“We share our faith in recognition and support of everyone experiencing the joy of belonging to our wonderful Clarence community and fulfilling their potential through acceptance, compassion, inclusion and understanding.
“We celebrate diversity of abilities, age, ethnicity, gender and orientation.
“We continue to support all positive efforts aimed at growing our shared community capital, through removing obstacles, including discrimination, so everyone can attain their potential.
“It is through this spirit that we will continue to attract families to the valley and encourage the long-term integration and participation of all people.”
The group has now written to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian; the letter reiterates much of what is set out in the declaration.
Note: An edited version of the letter, titled ‘Dear Gladys Berejiklian, is available on the Independent’s website.
People who would like to be proactively involved with Inclusive Clarence can contact John Hagger on 6644 0207.
Inclusive Clarence Declaration signatories
Ashley Lindsay (CVC GM), Brett Tibbet (CEO Grafton Ngerrie Local Aboriginal Land Council), Chris Gulaptis (Clarence MP), Dr Murray Harvey (Bishop Grafton Cathedral), Daniel Reid (Greens Candidate for Page), Debrah Novak (CVC clr), Greg Clancy (CVC clr), Greg Jenks (Dean Grafton Cathedral), Janelle Saffin (Lismore MP), Janet Cavanaugh (Greens candidate), Jennifer McAllister (NSW Senator Federal Parliament), Jim Simmons (CVC mayor), John Edwards (Clarence Environment Centre), John Hagger (Clarence Forum), Justin James (president Grafton Chamber of Commerce), Karen Toms (CVC clr), Kevin Hogan (Federal MP Page), Patrick Deegan (ALP candidate Page), Peter Ellem (CVC clr), Phil Belletty (vice president Grafton Chamber of Commerce), Rathi Ramanathan (chair, LOETUS), Richard Williamson (CVC clr), Steve Cansdell (Fishers Shooters Farmers Party), Bill North (DEX editor) and Vicki St Lawrence.