Lake vigil goes ahead after anger at stake removal

By John Lewis

Indigenous community members and supporters have been angered by an attack on preparations for a Black Lives Matter vigil that had been due to take place in central Shepparton last weekend.

Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group convenor Dierdre Robertson said hundreds of wooden stakes placed around Victoria Park Lake last Friday ahead of an exhibition highlighting indigenous deaths in custody were ripped out and thrown around the area.

The stakes were among 437 placed around the lake perimeter by Greater Shepparton City Council workers ahead of the event planned for Saturday, July 11. The vigil was subsequently postponed because of torrential rain.

The stakes were to feature message-bearing placards and artwork by young indigenous people to mark the number of indigenous people who have died in police custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody ended in 1991.

Ms Robertson said organisers had been "deeply hurt" by the removal of the stakes.

“Is this the sort of behaviour our community thinks is okay? This is an opportunity for Shepparton people to step up and take a stand against racism and inequality,” Ms Robertson said.

“The behaviour you walk past is the behaviour you accept.”

Council director infrastructure Phil Hoare said about half the 437 stakes were found to have been pulled out and thrown either into the lake or surrounding gardens and bushland.

He said the matter had been reported to police, who were investigating.

The event is now set to be staged this Saturday, when stakes with messages will once again be placed around the lake as a "Line of Remembrance" from 9.30 am to 4 pm.

Saturday's event is being held within the context of the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement and is supported by Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-Operative and the council.

Ms Robertson said strict COVID-19 social distancing regulations would be observed.

“This is not a gathering of people — we hope people will walk or cycle past the placards and reflect,” she said.