Last Wednesday was Sorry Day in Australia. Sorry Day has been held on May 26 each year since 1998 to commemorate and remember the history of mistreatment of Aboriginal and Islander people and of the forced removal of aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families over a period of 150 years. These children are now known as the Stolen Generations. In 2008 the Prime Minister of Australia apologised for the mistreatment of all those people. I will never forget that day.
Bev and I after the presentation. The flag behind us is the Australian Aboriginal flag.
One of the volunteers at our Neighbourhood Centre is a remarkable woman called Beverly Hand. Beverly is an elder of the Kabi Kabi people who live in this area. Unfortunately there are very few Kabi Kabi people around now. Beverly and I threw open the doors of the Centre for Sorry Day and about 50 people attended our Sorry Day event. After morning tea there was a DVD about the Stolen Generations, then lunch and music was enjoyed by everyone there. After lunch we gathered in our large room for an explanation of aboriginal history from the 1700s to the present day. Then Beverly presented a framed copy of the Apology to me to be hung in the foyer of the Centre. Beverly asked me to read it out to those gathered. It was a very moving day marked equally by sadness about the past, acceptance of the present and optimism for the future.
This is what I read:
Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.