3 June 2010

Sorry Day

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.


  1. Thank you for sharing this. You had mentioned "Sorry Day" in an earlier post and being that I"m from Oregon, I had no clue what that was..wow, your explanation was beautiful, moving, sobering all at the same time!!! I'll ook up that film "Stolen Generations". I did see a film awhile back with Kenneth Branagh called "Along the Rabbit Fence"...I don't know if it was based on a true story or not, but it did highlight some of the issues you brought up in todays post. Thanks for sharing this and explaining to us what this day means and why it's so important.

    Have a lovely rest of the week, Rhonda. Sincerely, Heather H :)

  2. Wow, I wish the United States had something similiar for our Native American population. Its a great thing that they do in Australia. One should always remember mistakes so that we won't repeat them.

  3. I'm so glad you posted this, because, like Heather and lots of other readers of your blog who do not live in Australia, I had no idea about it. I have seen the rabbit fence movie, and wondered about the story behind it...In the US, unfortunately, we had years of removing Indian/native American children from their homes and sending them off to boarding schools where they were often punished for speaking their mother tongue. My children and grandchildren are bilingual and in some cases trilingual, and involved in many activities to connect to their heritages. I think it is truly tragic when this is disrupted. There have been some apologies in the US, but a national holiday to commemorate this would be a good thing, I believe. It would not be forgotten so easily.

  4. Glad your day was a success, Rhonda. Your Centre certainly hosts some worthwhile activities and events.
    Have a good day today.
    Tracy (Brisbane) :-)

  5. So so beautiful! Such grace and love. It would be nice if other governments would make such an apology to those who have been oppressed.

  6. I too will never forget this amazing day in our political history. Thank you for posting the transcript. I'd never read or heard it since that day I had tears streaming down my face, watching our Prime Minister deliver such an important address.
    Thanks again, Vic xx

  7. A lot of my ancestry is Cherokee & Osage (Native American tribes), so this was very interesting to me. I didn't know that there was an actual Sorry Day, but I do remember when the prime minister made his speech as it was carried on news around the world. Thank you for posting this.

  8. I discovered your blog via Margy of Powell River Books blog - wow, what a find! Sadly our indigenous peoples here in Canada have suffered greatly as well. One wonders if all the hurts will ever be known. Will sorry ever be said enough? I'll be back, you're writing is inspirational. Have a great day!

  9. I also saw that movie Along the Rabbit Fence. I did not know about this living in Texas. I think that was a great apology that was made.

  10. Yes. Definitely we white people have made some mistakes, but then; so have others. Still, it is a good thing to honour; and saying sorry can carry a lot of weight. One rarely hears it anymore.

  11. I love to come and visit your blog. I'm in north Queensland. Over the past few years we have done more and more homemaking of things, like our veggie garden, fruit trees, making our own sprouts, bread in the breadmaker, and eating more vegetarian meals. We love living the simple life. Hubby retires in 3 years and want to live simple but satisfying. Sharon

  12. I'll bet every nation has mistreated a population of people at some time. It sounds like a fantastic idea to have a Sorry day.

  13. Before the flower power generation reared their unruly heads, the world was on an unchallenged road to destruction. A World War 2 mentality drove a fossil fuelled economy through a wake of toxic sludge whilst spewing out poisonous gasses. Red necked dinosaurs presided over most corporations, governments and religious bodies. Sexist, bigoted, biased and violent war lords plied their trade on every continent, adding daily to the mountains of dead and dying, only concerned with the next generation of weapons of mass destruction.

    A multitude of brave souls decided to grow their hair long, put on funny clothes, hand paint their comby vans and stand in defiance before the behemoth like a china man before a tank. With a soundtrack of wailing guitars and an entourage of semi-naked nymphs, they took on the enemies of mother earth with a passion of a young David before the might of a Philistine. They pioneered the best intentions of today’s sensibilities towards a sustainable future.

    Oh the ridicule they faced, the persecutions they endured, the ostracization and the ongoing reduction to the lowest of the low. They suffered so your children would have a chance to see their children’s children exist. Be honest, what do you think of them now that everything they alluded to has become the dialog of respected citizens; the clothes they wore, paraded on the catwalk of fashion; the music they listened to , a billion dollar industrial norm; the causes they supported, the causes of presidents; are they still a joke in your mind or have you conveniently forgotten the event?

    In Australia, the courageous few quite often took refuge within Aboriginal communities, in out of the way places. They were acceptable to the elders at a time when they shared a mutual enemy. They shared a common fate, many times naked ferals were dished out similar treatment. Arrested, imprisoned, segregated, they too had their children taken off them. Yet there is no national sorry day for them, there is no sympathy, there is no pardon.

    We, the beneficiaries, should walk across a bridge or two; should go out of our way to recognize the sacrifice; should not only call for and participate in a sorry but demand a THANK YOU day.

  14. Mere rhetoric is no substitute for policies which actually address the the root causes of the problems faced by the Aboriginal community.

    And the fact of the matter is that this apology has not improved health outcomes or life expectancy for Aboriginals one iota. It has not reduced the huge number of young Aboriginal girls presenting with STD's. What it has done is allowed allowed Kevin Rudd (Australia's P.M) to unfairly claim the moral high ground with regard to Aboriginal affairs and nothing more. It's political expediency at its worst.

    Unless policies are introduced which actually deal with existing problems (let's face it, saying sorry willl never right the wrongs of the past), then I'm afraid 'Sorry Day' will always be looked upon by me (and many others) as a day in which the triumph of style over substance is celebrated, and where 'seeming' is valued more than 'doing'.

  15. I knew that Kevin Rudd said sorry a couple years ago but had no idea that we have a Sorry Day nor that it's been around since 1998!!! I must live under a rock.

  16. Forgiveness is the final step to healing. Wrongs as great as these can not be forgiven with one apology, I agree. However, let's not diminish such a great step in a positive direction by bringing negative feedback. Like all things, it will take time but it will improve. Things have to improve! If you change the mindset of the oppressors, change in reality is the next logical step.

    I wish Canada would do as much. For the aboriginal children and families, for Japanese descendants locked in camps during WW2, for anyone whose culture has been destroyed by our ignorance and self-serving motives.

    Sorry Day sounds like a wonderful concept! Thank you for sharing Rhonda.

  17. Oh Rhonda this is the most awesome of posts for the acknowledment of a nation to offer acceptance for it's actions! WOW!
    If only this nation would honor itself by doing so. Here the nations fear the threat of suit so they keep shut. The only time I ever even learned of the things done there was an old movie called Quwigly down under. It was there that I learned more of the Aborigine people. They are so beautiful! The skill of living in the out back and being forced into an exile in their own lands. Hunted and treated as animals. This here was much the case with we American Indians. Forced to the bad lands or cultures stolen from us. It is an honor what has been done in this "SORRY DAY" of healing. Makes me just love your wonderful country even more. Some day we must come to see your lands. My children were taught of the Aborigines years back and have a heart for them as well. Understanding and knowledge. History forgotten repeats itself.

  18. I think I have a very different mindset from most people. For me, once an apology is given and accepted, it's over. The wrong is forgiven, and there is no need to constantly rehash it. That constant rehashing / re-apologizing shows a) there really wasn't forgiveness or b) someone wants to keep stirring up the bad feelings.

    I definitely think an apology was warranted, as the treatment of those originally living there (and here) was atrocious, but don't understand the mindset of revisiting it repeatedly.

  19. What I really, really like about the apology is that it isn't just an apology - it's a call to action to everyone to be involved in righting the wrongs of the past, to participate in finding solutions to the problems that still remain. Saying sorry isn't enough, and that message comes through beautifully. Thanks so much for sharing it with us in other parts of the world.

  20. Beautiful post - this speech still brings tears to my eyes, after so many successive governments refusing to acknowledge the wrongs and apologise for them.

  21. I had never heard of Sorry Day - every nation should have one. There has been - and still is - so much injustice in the world. Saying sorry is the first step.

    I recently heard Archbishop Tutu talk about the Truth & Reconciliation process when he was visiting Oxford. It was memorable. Oh, for more people like him!

    For those interested, I have written about this on my blog (May 2010).

    Another fine post. Thank you.



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