Archived News Item

Apology generates amazing community response

Last week’s Federal Parliament apology to the Stolen Generation generated a remarkable response from the Australian community. We are pleased to publish the reflections of some young people who have connections with the Australian Mercy network – students and staff from Mercedes College in Perth (WA), students from Monte Sant’ Angelo in North Sydney (NSW), and a young teacher from St Therese’s Community School in Wilcannia (NSW).

Saying sorry from the community at Mercedes College Perth
Sister Joan Smith (Local Communications Facilitator, Perth) alerted us to a great video created by the staff and students of Mercedes College in Perth which expresses their support for Sorry Day. The video was posted on YouTube and can be accessed here.  You might like to share it with others!

Monte Sant’ Angelo North Sydney Students travel to Canberra – Harriet, Steph and Claire reflect on their experience
Yesterday (February 13), we were lucky enough to be among a group of around 30 staff, students and parents who travelled to Canberra to witness the official apology from the government to the Stolen Generations. It was always going to be a significant day.

History was being made, and a new relationship was being forged based on respect and understanding. This day signified an amazing first step on the road to reconciliation and acceptance. It also opened the doors for a new, more urgent approach to addressing the issues facing many Indigenous communities, including access to healthcare, education and housing.

Saying “sorry” has been a topic of much political contention for many years, but one of the most successful aspects of the apology given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was that it rose above politics, and encompassed a national view beyond the divides of political parties. Prime Minister Rudd expressed this best perhaps, when he said, “The nation is calling on us, the politicians, to move beyond our infantile bickering… and elevate this one core area of national responsibility to rare position.” Prime Minister Rudd also used examples of the horrific experiences endured by members of the Stolen Generations to highlight the need to say sorry.

Three students from our group were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit in the Gallery to watch the apology. The official proceeding of the House were in stark contrast to the overwhelming joy expressed by everyone present when Prime Minister Rudd was given a standing ovation. To witness such a monumental event was inspiring and demonstrated the spirit of reconciliation with which the apology was offered and received.

The rest of the 30 Monte representatives gathered with members of the public in the Great Hall. The emotions throughout the proceedings were intense. The Speaker’s introduction “Item One. A movement to apologise to Australia’s Indigenous peoples” was greeted with palpable relief and elation by all assembled. The Prime Minister’s speech was punctuated with applause, commentary and tears from the crowd, along with a standing ovation. The honesty and openness with which the crowd greeted the speech made the day one which I will never forget.

Brendan Nelson’s speech was greeted less warmly, with many of the crowd turning their backs and drowning out the speech. It was unfortunate that the response to the speech meant that Dr Nelson’s words went unheard by many, as it is important to respectfully consider both sides of the issue and maintain the dignity of the occasion.

In the foyer, we were lucky enough to meet with Indigenous leaders, politicians and members of the press. It was interesting to hear the different perspectives on the apology. A number of girls had the opportunity to express their views on various radio stations. We wandered amongst the crowds on the lawns of Parliament House and explored the tent embassy. This added to the experience greatly, and was a fantastic conclusion to such a historically significant day.

One of the most significant aspects of Prime Minister Rudd’s speech, for me, was his comments on the need for action, in addition to symbolism. He said, “Symbolism is important but, unless the great symbolism of reconciliation is accompanied by an even greater substance, it is little more than a clanging gong.” Words can be meaningful and healing to an extent, but it is much more vital that the great beginning created by the apology is taken advantage of. This was expressed in the proposals for preschool education for all Indigenous children within five years, and the promise to halve the 17 year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade.

Finally, a special thanks to Auntie Julie, as well as Mr Leaver and Sr Carmel, along with all the other staff and parents who made the trip possible. It was certainly unforgettable, and made us further aware of our responsibility to ensure that this first step on the journey towards true reconciliation and equality is followed by many more.

Clare Compton, a teacher at St Therese’s Community School in Wilcannia reflects on the apology
In downtown Wilcannia, a group of people gathered in the CDEP office waiting while a television was found to show the Prime Minister’s apology to the members of the Stolen Generation and all of those who were directly and indirectly impacted by past government policy of the forced removal of Aboriginal children.

There were the very youngest people in town – little babies and children from St Therese’s Community School, to some of the oldest respected Elders of the Paakantji people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal sitting side by side to witness an historic event that will stay in hearts and minds forever.

Everyone kept a solemn silence as Prime Minister Rudd’s speech was delivered. The little ones unsure of exactly what was occurring, but still with a sense that something very, very important was happening. Older people sat still as statues. Eyes, glassy with unshed tears, transfixed on the screen as the stories of pain and separation were recounted. It was a privilege to be in that room, with those people – those who were impacted by the tragic policies of the past and the littlest ones representing the bright, bold new future of possibility for true reconciliation and justice for all.

Back at school we talked about what we had just witnessed.

“That fulla on the TV was saying sorry”, said one little girl, and suddenly I thought about what may have been if this child was born only a couple of generations ago. Could she have been one of those forcibly removed? Sent to a home many hundreds of kilometres away from the love of her parents, away from her own Country, away from everything that identified her as herself?

It made the stories all the more real to me. I then thought of my friends in the community who were parents – imagine if they had to go through the tremendous grief of having their children taken. These were unbearable thoughts; how much more excruciating then would have the reality have been.

The next day in our prayer time, Nicola Bates (a Paakantji woman from Wilcannia and teacher at St Therese’s) read to the muurrpa “Down the Hole”. A true story of the “The State People” stealing children, “just kidnapping them” as part of the policy of “Protection” in South Australia and the extraordinary lengths that parents went to prevent their children from being taken.

She then beautifully explained what the apology meant to her and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving to the Creator Spirit for this time for the true healing of the past to begin.