Day 147 of 366:Blog Challenge 2012

Hello all

Today I want to talk about National Sorry Day and explain where it all began for those of my readers who do not understand why we in Australia celebrate this day.

National Sorry Day is celebrated in Australia on 26th May every year in order to say “sorry” to the original inhabitants of this land for the treatment they received at the hands of the white people in days gone by.

It was the English who claimed this country for themselves and declared it “terra nullius” which translated means: “home of no one.”   But this was not true. The British interpreted this to mean “no civilised society” – as if somehow this made it alright.

 The Aboriginal people were very much inhabiting all of this land and they had their own concept of law and unwritten legal codes.

This was the British’s first mistake in judgment! But on the other side of the coin, the people of those times – 1770 – were busy claiming land for whatever country it was that had sent them exploring so it was not only the English who were taking territories and claiming land. It was a world that operated under different ethics to those which we use today.

The second mistake in judgment, was to continue on down through the years treating the first inhabitants as second class citizens and continuing on with “terra nullius” when we should have known better.

The third mistake in judgment that the British (and also Australians) made was from 1869-1969 they took aboriginal children from their families with the rationale that they needed government protection for various reasons. One which seemed to dominate was taking those who were half-white or were deemed ‘at risk’ for reasons that no one seems to be able to fathom!

These are the people we refer to as “The Stolen Generations.” They were often hunted down and “stolen” from their families and made “wards of the state” and often given to white families to raise. This, I do believe, was the worst travesty we had committed so far.

It wasn’t until 1992 that this concept of terra nullius became a major issue in Australian politics when an Aboriginal known as Mabo challenged the concept in the High Court of Australia who promptly issued a judgment which was a direct overturning of terra nullius.

Terra nullius was no more! The High Court had recognised the concept of Native Title; that the aboriginals were occupying the land at the time. It is all very complicated but this simple explanation is the best I can do to explain it here. Things began to gather momentum from this point. Another significant event then occurred in 1997.

 The State Library of Queensland states:

“In 1997 the Australian Human Rights Commission tabled the Bringing them home report in response to a National Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report estimated that anywhere between one in three and one in ten children were removed from their families between 1910 and 1970.”

So, it was on the 26th May 1997 when the Bringing them Home Report was tabled.

But it took a lot longer for politicians to understand that the aboriginal people wanted the Parliament to acknowledge their history of wrong dealings with the aboriginal people by saying “SORRY” – officially – in the parliament of the country.

And  it wasn’t until 13th February that a new government led by Kevin Rudd, stood up in Parliament and said that wonderful word: SORRY.

Here is part of that historic and emotional speech:

The text of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s speech to Parliament

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.

And so the speech continued on. I remember being glued to the television at the time watching as Kevin’s speech unfolded, before I headed for work. I was moved to tears.

So this why today, we celebrate “National Sorry Day” all around Australia.  I heard an aboriginal woman say “it is a strange day really: it is a mixture of hope and of sadness.”

Yes this is true, but Iprefer today to concentrate on that word: HOPE, I prefer to look forward to a better day when there will be even further developments in our attempt to make things better for our aboriginal brothers and sisters.

For what we have done, we really did need to say that little word which so often means so much to all of us when we have been wronged: