Monday, August 28, 2006

Apology for Insult at the Cenotaph

eCouncillor readers would remember my post on representing the City of Sydney at the VP Day memorial service at the Cenotaph, Martin Place. It was a moving ceremony and a great honour.
Read the post here.

Imagine my anger at opening today's newspapers to see what I feel is a desecration of this sacred place. I visited Martin Place yesterday but the offensive display (in the name of art?) that greeted us on page 5 of today's Sydney Morning Herald had been removed by that time. Just as well with dozens of Vietnam diggers wandering through the Cenotaph attending a reception at government House in their honour. I think it was a pretty appalling oversight by our organisation to let this desecration occur. When I saw it in the SMH I was very angry and disappointed that we had been so insensitive, so careless. I know some will feel that all the victims of war have a right to be acknowledged. Body bags around the Cenotaph is an insult to the respectful memorial of all who die in wars. The impact upon returned service men and women, their families and those who did not return must be paramount in our thinking about uses for the Cenotaph.

The new CEO's report to Councillors is below along with the article form today' SMH. The picture is at the link (Blogger is getting very difficult to upload images).

Bags of controversy over cenotaph display

Stark ... Omeima Sukkarieh, the artist responsible for the display, said she had not intended it to be near the Cenotaph, a placement that has angered the RSL.Photo: Dean Sewell

Jordan Baker and David HumphriesAugust 28, 2006
THE City of Sydney has come under attack from the Returned and Services League for allowing hundreds of mock body bags - including one labelled "your prime minister" - to surround the Cenotaph in Martin Place.
The artist, Omeima Sukkarieh, said the display was supposed to be a stark reminder of innocent lives lost in war. That it surrounded a monument to real soldiers who were killed in war was an accident.
"Honestly, I really wanted to have it either at Circular Quay or Hyde Park," she said. "It was never intended to be Martin Place. It was just the only place available."
Sukkarieh said she had complied with the City of Sydney Council's protocols. "It was never meant to cause any disrespect, and if it did I apologise," she said.
The national president of the Returned and Services League, Bill Crews, said he would have been offended if Sukkarieh had staged a political protest beside the memorial to make a point. But in this case, the council should have been more careful.
"I take [the artist's] assurance that they didn't deliberately do it at the Cenotaph, but in that case the onus comes on the council for agreeing [to let it be] adjacent to the cenotaph," he said.
The body bags each had an identity meant to shock, such as "your daughter", "your prime minister" or "your doctor".
Sukkarieh said the display was intended to draw attention to the victims of war, particularly those killed in recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon.
"There were some people who were not impressed and found it disgusting," Sukkarieh said. "But what's going on is disgusting. I respected everyone's opinions. It just made people think."
The body bag labelled "your prime minister" was not supposed to refer to John Howard but to a generic prime minister, she said.
"One had an ambulance officer, a journalist, a doctor. Death doesn't discriminate against people, and I think it's really about us realising as human beings that, prime minister or no prime minister, we are all the same."
The council was unable to comment last night.
The Minister for Veterans Affairs, Bruce Billson, said this "graphic demonstration" showed "a lack of respect for our service men and women who have given their lives".
"This could be quite traumatic for those who lost loved ones in conflicts while serving our country," Mr Billson said.
He said there were many alternative sites that would have been "more thoughtful and sensitive", and Martin Place was "totally inappropriate".

Lord Mayor & Councillors

I refer to the article on p.5 of today's Sydney Morning Herald regarding the display by Omeina Sukkarieh which used the Cenotoph as a backdrop.
I have written to the State President of the RSL (Don Rowe) to apologise for any offence or disrespect that this may have caused. I have also verbally apologised to the State Secretary of the RSL, Chris Perrin, who is also Custodian of the Cenotopaph.
The City receives many applications for use of Martin Place around the Cenotaph, and such applications are rarely approved (with the exception of events organised by the RSL). In the very few instances where approval is contemplated the City always consults with and seeks endorsement from the Custodian of the Cenotaph, Chris Perrin, who is also the NSW State Secretary of the RSL.
In this case the applicant was verbally advised that the display was to have been in the area between Castlereagh and Pitt Streets, not near or around the Cenotaph. Unfortunately the written approval provided to the applicant did not make this clear.
I have spoken with the staff involved and asked that procedures be reviewed to ensure that this does not occur again.
Monica Barone
Chief Executive Officer

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