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Thursday, December 14, 2017

I Am Sorry - a National Apology in Australia

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An historical day for Australia: 2 hours to "Sorry."

While this could be seen as lacking in relevance to Broowaha readers, I beg to differ. We are after all, citizens of the world. So too, Americans and Australians alike are currently living in times of serious change and I believe, living in an atmosphere of hope.

On the 3rd of December, 2007 Australia changed government. Our 25th and second longest serving  Prime Minister, the Liberal Party’s John Howard was succeeded by Labor’s Kevin Rudd after 11 years of service. For 11 years, this minion of George Bush has succeeded at stripping my country of most things I believed in.  It was not just for adventure that I left my country 2 years ago.

For those of you who do not know, a dark cloud hangs over Australia’s past (and that we were settled as a penal colony is not that cloud) – a period that was not mentioned in Australian History Studies at my fancy, private girls’ school. This dark period pertains to what is known as ‘The Stolen Generation (or Generations)’ – addressed somewhat in the film ‘Rabbit Proof Fence,’ which was released stateside.

The Stolen Generation is a term used to describe the Australian Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander children, usually of mixed descent who were removed from their families by Australian Government agencies and church missions, under various state acts of parliament, denying the rights of parents and making all Aboriginal children wards of the state, between approximately 1869 and 1969. Yes, that was 1969 you read. The policy typically involved the removal of children into inernment camps, orphanages and other institutions. The Stolen Generation has received significant public attention in Australia following the publication in 1997 of Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families.

According to the 'Bringing Them Home Report,' at least 100,000 children were removed from their parents, and the figure may be substantially higher (the report notes that formal records of removals were very poorly kept). What that translates to today, is that literally every, single Aboriginal family has a connection to this removal policy. Not a single family has been unaffected by this forcible removal policy and successive policies of ‘assimilation,’ which saw many aboriginal women raped and kept as sex slaves.

Eleven years after the Human Rights Commission said the Federal Parliament should apologize to Indigenous Australians, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will this afternoon say sorry. Only two months into a new government – with the previous, Howard government persisting in declining to acknowledge reconciliation efforts - I am here to witness something that I and millions of other Australians have marched and petitioned for, for a decade. This is a momentous day in Australian history. My children will learn about this day in Australian History Studies and for this, I am proud.

Hundreds of thousands of Aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians have trekked from all over our vast country and descended upon Canberra (our Capitol Hill) along with all living former Prime Ministers except John Howard, to be present for the long-awaited formal apology that will be given at 9am, Australian, Eastern Daylight time or 2pm Pacific Standard Time in Los Angeles. Cities across the country are holding public gatherings where the apology can be viewed live on erected screens in a spirit of solidarity.

A condensed article, space and time do not permit to cover all aspects of this long debated, controversial decision but I will say this. When our meal is delivered cold, when a cash machine is out of order or when someone bumps into us on the street, we expect an apology. This does not mean that we necessarily expect compensation. When a friend’s loved one passes away, we say sorry because we can empathize, this does not mean that a relative of mine actually killed them. These are acts of common decency. Today I believe, is the very first step in the long road to reconciliation and once again, I feel hope about my country’s future.

The exact wording of the National Apology that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd will deliver is as follows (released yesterday):

"Today we honor 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 apologize for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologize 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."

You can stream the Formal Apology live and read more information here:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/events/apology/



About the Writer

V is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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11 comments on I Am Sorry - a National Apology in Australia

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By V on February 12, 2008 at 05:17 pm

http://www.smh.com.au/multimedia/2008/national/in-living-memory/index.html

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By Ivan Homeless on February 12, 2008 at 05:31 pm

It is always so sad and disheartening to learn of a country's mistreatment of it's indigenous peoples - at least your new PM has the backbone to apologize and try to set right some of the wrongs of his predecessors - to him I say "good on ya" and hope that others will follow in his footsteps in an effort to create a better world community.

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By S. Vaughan on February 12, 2008 at 08:11 pm

Thanks for the info...learned something again today.

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By V on February 12, 2008 at 09:04 pm

Glad to share this small bit of history with you all. Jen, I have shed many tears both of frustration and now, joy over this issue. You wouldn't be alone in inclination. People were weeping all over the country today, standing ovations in the middle of city streets to thunderous applause from school children to business people who vacated their offices and entered designated viewing sites.

In March 2000, the Sydney Harbour Bridge was closed to accommodate what was projected to be no more than a few thousand Aborigines, some hippys, uni-students and die hard activsits. When I alighted the train at the Northern end of the bridge and came up from the underground to catch a first glimpse of the protesters that day, nothing could have prepared me for the sight. Over 250,00 Australians from all over the country (and that's a lot for a country whose entire population is not more than 1/3 of the current population of California) walked arm in arm back and forth across the world famous harbour crying. Airplanes skywrote 'Sorry,' but we were met with silence from the government of th time. Bus-loads and airplane-loads of supporters made the journey into the city from very far flung regions. Everyone from Aboriginal elders to the Italian Women's Auxillary from some town in central Australia to school children - entire schools in fact walked the bridge that day. We didn't do it because we thought 'Sorry' would fix everything. Practical measures and proposals have long been in the works and will now be implemented. But the people that day in 2000 and what the people today in 2007 stand unified in, is our belief that we can't even begin to make amends and work toward healing, without basic acknowledgement and without a simple and very human apology.  

I'm off to celebrate!

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By V on February 13, 2008 at 03:22 am

Feckin' ay El G! I had the grand misfortune to be at a Russel Crowe gig (40 Odd Foot of Bullshit) and honestly, I'd rather suffer any manner of misfortunes than be subject to that again. At least our Kyles has a great arse. Nicole Kidman isn't Australian. She's an alien.

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By 'Mean' Mike Duffau on February 13, 2008 at 04:11 pm

one person can really screw things up for everybody. go celebrate, champ!

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By D. E. Carson on February 15, 2008 at 08:36 pm

Until now, the only good thing to come out of Australia was Olivia Newton-John.  I have to admit that I'm giving Australia serious consideration should Shrillary or Osama-bama move in to 1600 Pennsaylvania Ave.  I'd actually like to see snow on my birthday...

I am curious to know how much of an effect a "sorry" is going to have.  It won't give those children back what they have lost.  It won't give their parents back their children.  Only time will tell.

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By Rose Mountain on March 01, 2008 at 02:37 pm

Dear V

Thanks so much for sharing the painful realities of what happened in Austraila over a century,  and then the silence and denial. What an amazing day for humanity and Austrailians. It gives me great hope for humanity and for America when I see other countries finally telling the truth and transforming their visions and policies to support humanitarian values.

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By Theresa H Hall on November 08, 2009 at 02:42 pm

Beautifully written and I am glad to read a first-hand account of your country's resolve to make things right. What a sad thing to have happened, both in your country and in oars and many others around the world. 

I pray daily for world peace and that men will stop trying to prove they are better than the next person through the use of force, words, expressions or actions. 

 

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By Jack Bates on February 01, 2010 at 02:26 am

Wow....You are correct, we are citizens of the world and thank you for this great piece of journalism. I had no idea about those past mistakes and commend you and your fellow Aussies for doing the right thing! I am trying to teach my 3 yr old how to appologize for his mistakes and it is hard. Sometimes I see governments like that, a stubborn toddler that doesn't want to let down their parent (people they represent) but in the end does the right thing.

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By LaurenK on October 21, 2011 at 09:01 pm

Really? You didn't learn about the stolen generation at school? That was the primary focus of our Australian History class, for like...four years...when I attended an all girls school in Sydney starting 2001. We actually watched rabbit proof fence as part of the curriculum.

I was a bit disappointed in your saying that you had left the country not only for the adventure. I think that is a little unfair. Political problems and historical cruelties are part of most countries... along with abuse and mistreatment of its indigenous people.

Despite the declaration of terra nulius, the fact that we were founded within the period of enlightenment meant that we were not as barbaric towards our Indigenous people as others have been.

It is surprising that we managed to mess things up continuously in the couple of hundred years followed. No-one is proud of the stolen generation and as you say, few were happy about the lack of a formal apology to the Indigenous peoples of Australia. There is no doubt that Australia has had its problems.

But I also feel it my duty to let citizens of the world know that Australia has better healthcare and education systems than many developed countries including Britain and The States, that our cities are considered to offer the highest standards of living in the world (I believe four are in the top 10, with Melbourne being 1st or 2nd and Sydney not far behind.) And I would be much more confident at a job interview here than in the Americas, Europe and Africa.

Despite the mistakes of Australia's past and present and the persistant desire to claw the eyes out of both Gillard and Abbott, I am proud to call myself Australian and I'm happy with what our young nation has achieved. Everytime I have left my home, it has been for the adventure.

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