Monday, May 26, 2014

National Sorry Day - "It's time to move forward together"

Today - the 26th May - is National Sorry Day in Australia. This annual event has been held in Australia on this date since 1997 to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the continent's Indigenous population. In 2008, the Australian Government delivered the National Apology, an important step in building trust and developing stronger relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. 


The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998, which was one year after the tabling of a report about the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report, known as Bringing Them Home, acknowledged that Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and communities since the early days of European occupation in Australia. Governments and missionaries were responsible for this forced separation.
Systematic removal practices were implemented through various assimilation and “protection” policies by the late 19th century. Many Indigenous children were forcibly taken away from their families in the name of assimilation during the 1950s and 1960s. These children are known as the “Stolen Generations”. They were brought up in institutions or fostered to non-Indigenous families. This removal was official government policy in Australia until 1969.
By the 1980s, by welfare and community groups spoke out that governments' social welfare practices were discriminatory against Indigenous people. This forced a reappraisal of removal and placement practice during the 1980s. In 1980 the family tracing and reunion agency Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation was established. Similar services now exist throughout Australia.
Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tabled a motion in parliament on February 13, 2008, apologizing to Australia’s Indigenous people, particularly the Stolen Generations and their families and communities, for the laws and policies that inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss. The apology included a proposal for a policy commission to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in matters such as life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity. This event is seen by many as a step forward in reconciliation.


The Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flag are often seen on National Sorry Day. The Aboriginal flag is horizontally divided into two equal halves of black (top) and red (bottom) with a yellow circle in the centre. The black symbolizes Australia’s Aboriginal people and the yellow circle represents the sun. The red represents the earth and people’s relationship with the land. It also represents ochre, which is used in Aboriginal ceremonies in Australia. Harold Joseph Thomas designed the flag, which was first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide on July 12, 1971.

Australian Aboriginal Flag

The Torres Strait Islander flag stands for Torres Strait Islanders’ unity and identity. It features three horizontal stripes, with green at the top and bottom of the flag and blue in between, divided by thin black lines. A white dharri or deri (a type of headdress) sits in the centre, with a five-point star underneath it. The color green represents the land. The dharri symbolizes all Torres Strait Islanders. The black represents the people and the blue represents the sea. The five-point star symbolizes the island groups. The star is white, which symbolizes peace in this case. Bernard Namok designed the flag.

The 13 February 2008 parliamentary apology read as follows:
I move:
That 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.
— Kevin RuddPrime Minister of Australia, 13 February 2008, at a sitting of the Parliament of Australia.

As an outside observer in Melbourne, I would say that there is still a pervasive sadness evident on Australian streets, a palpable silence around Indigenous issues in many social contexts, and the sense of a great chasm between White Australia and Aboriginal peoples... Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd's historic apology was, however, a giant step in the right direction, as is journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger's powerful polemic, Utopia. Although Tony Abbott's recent disastrous budget cuts do not auger very well for Aboriginal communities, we can only be hopeful for the future welfare of the Indigenous people of Australia and for stronger interrelationships between non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples, acknowledging that 'it's time we move forward together' as the following song invites. Click on this link to watch a neat video clip containing extracts from Rudd's milestone apology.

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