Archived News Item

May: a significant month for Indigenous Australians

May is a month of significant dates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and indeed for all Australians who are working together for justice and equity. These dates include the tenth anniversary of the tabling of the Bringing Them Home Report (May 25), National Sorry Day (May 26), and the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 Referendum (May 27). May 27 also marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week which concludes on June 3.




The Bringing Them Home Report revealed the tremendous damage and long lasting trauma of the past laws, practices and policies that resulted in the separation of Indigenous children from their families by compulsion, duress or undue influence. The extent of forced removal had dire consequences in terms of broken families, shattered physical and mental health, loss of language, culture and connection to traditional land, loss of parenting skills, and the enormous distress of many victims today.


“In chairing the National Inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, I had to relate to hundreds of stories of personal devastation, pain and loss. It was a life-changing experience. An apology begins the healing process. Apology means understanding, a willingness to enter into the suffering. It implies a commitment to do more.” The late, Sir Ronald Wilson


The report presented 54 recommendations which called for all governments, church and other bodies to apologise and provide support and assistance to bring about justice and healing for the Stolen Generation, their families and communities. Whilst many such groups have given a formal apology, the Federal Government has not, and the majority of the recommendations have not been followed through. Some organisations have done progress reports over the years. See the Journey of Healing ACT Community Progress Report – Are We Bringing Them Home?


This tenth anniversary provides an opportunity for all Australians to re-commit to working for justice and the fulfillment of these recommendations. See the National Sorry Day Committee website for details of its ten-year campaign: “Walk Your Talk” and Bring Them Home: 54 Recommendations fulfilled by 2017.


This campaign encourages both children and adults to participate through several activities:


§          Australian Schools’ Sorry Day on Thursday May 24, 2007. This initiative involves a letter-writing campaign and the Say “Sorry” and School Curriculum Petitions.


§          People are invited to create their own Pledge Books as a re-commitment to the original Sorry Books.


§          People are invited to participate in the Stolen Generation’s Track Home which involves purchasing a set of coloured feet and creating a symbolic track in memory of the many tracks formed when the children were taken away.



The Bringing Them Home Report recommended that a Sorry Day be held – a day when all Australians could express their sorrow for what had happened. Sorry Day has been held annually since 1998 so that we can acknowledge the past hurt and its consequences, make a public apology for this practice, and recommit to seeking justice and equity for all who have been affected. This year, Sorry Day is a Saturday. Find out what is happening in your area or organise some event that will raise awareness in your local community. Check the National Sorry Day Committee’s website for events and further ideas.



The question in the referendum was to determine whether two references in the Australian Constitution, which discriminated against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples should be removed. This referendum was the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum, with 91% voting for change. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples would now be included in the Census, and responsibility for them would lie with the Federal Government rather than with the States.


According to Larissa Behrendt, this fortieth anniversary is “a moment to celebrate the people’s movement that built over decades to make that historic change. But it is also time for deep reflection. Forty years later, despite that grass roots call for equality, we still see Aboriginal communities living in conditions far below those of other Australians. We must ask ourselves: why hasn’t the Constitutional change and the resources and attention provided since, brought equality to Indigenous people?” For Larissa’s complete essay click here.


MAY 27 – JUNE 3: NATIONAL RECONCILIATION WEEK AND WEEK OF PRAYER FOR RECONCILIATION. This year marks the eleventh anniversary of the establishment of National Reconciliation Week. This year’s theme is Their Spirit Still Shines.


National Reconciliation Week was initiated in 1996 to provide people across Australia the opportunity to focus on reconciliation, to hear about the culture and history of Australia‘s Indigenous people, and to explore new and better ways of meeting challenges in our communities. It is also a time for us to renew our commitment to reconciliation and to think about how we can help turn around the continuing disadvantage experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.


National Reconciliation Week and the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation are held between two significant dates: May 27, the anniversary of the 1967 Referendum, and June 3, the anniversary of the High Court of Australia’s judgement of the Mabo case in 1992. This decision recognised the Native Title rights of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the original inhabitants of the continent, and overturned the myth of terra nullius – that the continent was empty, un-owned land before the arrival of Europeans in 1788.


For further information about Reconciliation Week and events around the country see the Reconciliation Australia website.


From: Specific Issues Committee, Indigenous Concerns (Sisters Liz Rothe, Rose Glennen)

The Committee warmly invites your response to the article or the issue.



Contact: Carmel Heagerty RSM, Institute Justice Co-ordinator