“Last night, at an Opera Australia performance of Anna Bolena, someone in the audience booed the Welcome to Country,” The Australian’s arts editor Ashleigh Wilson wrote on Twitter yesterday.
“First I’ve heard of that happening at an arts event anywhere. Opera audiences are often vocal but usually they pick the moment a little better.”
Last night, at an Opera Australia performance of Anna Bolena, someone in the audience booed the Welcome to Country. First I’ve heard of that happening at an arts event anywhere. Opera audiences are often vocal but usually they pick the moment a little better.
Users on Twitter described it as “appalling” and disrespectful. “All the closet racists are showing their true selves these days,” Mel Giancarlo wrote. “I’m keeping careful notes.”
Ray Simon said he “always suspected the opera crowd were middle-class bogans”. Lauren Elizabeth added, “When the Oz opera performs Otello, they use brown face. So not really surprised the audience is a bunch of out-of-touch racists.”
Others shared similar experiences. “I had a guy next to me muttering about it (negatively) at a Melbourne Symphony Orchestra concert a few months ago,” Paul Noonan wrote.
Karen Shirley said she encountered it at a recent community event. “An intimate setting so the ‘objection’ was impossible not to hear,” she wrote. “It made me equal parts enraged + bereft and to my shame also speechless. How dare they?”
Author Judith Ridge added, “Someone (repeatedly) heckled the stunning Welcome to Country at the 16 Lovers Lane concert at the State Theatre last year. They got booed down by the audience.”
Stephen T., however, said “in honesty” he was “not that surprised”. “I think some kind of point has been passed where goodthinkful gestures have stopped carrying weight,” he wrote.
“For me, it was when I was part of the response to the attempted bombing in Bourke St last year — before Red Cross turned out crews, it insisted on doing an Acknowledgment of Country. In the presence of a very real and frightening tragedy a ritual like that seemed so meaningless.”
A Sydney Opera House spokeswoman said the company was “deeply saddened to hear about this incident”.
“Racism of any form is unacceptable,” she said. “The Opera House is committed to supporting and celebrating First Nations culture and to fostering a shared sense of belonging for all Australians.
“An Acknowledgement of Country is given at the majority of performances. This is an important way that we honour our First Nations Peoples and acknowledge the Gadigal people, traditional custodians of Tubowgule, the land on which the Opera House stands.”
The City of Sydney officially acknowledges the Gadigal of the Eora Nation as the traditional custodians of the area and notes the “far reaching and devastating impacts” of the British “invasion”.
As a mark of respect, official events begin with a Welcome to Country ceremony — either in the form of a speech or a performance — delivered by an elder or other representative.
It encourages other organisations, community groups and event producers to include either a Welcome to Country or a simple Acknowledgement of Country.
On Wednesday, Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt said he would push for a referendum to recognise Aborigines in the Constitution and enshrine an “indigenous voice” to parliament, which would advise government on Aboriginal issues.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull and PM Scott Morrison have both spoken out against the suggestion since it was first proposed by the Referendum Council in 2017, arguing it would become a “third chamber of parliament”.