Opinion

Join together for Sorry Day

by
May 14, 2018

A decline in pneumonia vaccination rates among older Australians has sparked an urgent plea for action by health professionals, who say the infection claims 2000 elderly lives each year.

May 26 is National Sorry Day.

So what is this day and why is it important?

As May 26 draws close, it is an chance to find out more.

A chance to learn more about our history and to develop greater understanding of who we are as a nation.

Twenty-one years ago, the Bringing Them Home Report was tabled in Federal Parliament.

The report was the result of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, which acknowledged Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children had been forcibly removed from families and communities since the earliest days of European occupation in Australia.

However, these words do not do justice to the strength and struggles of many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by forcible removal — the individuals, their families and their communities.

The report contains many stories of children being removed, of loss of family, of heartache and deep pain.

There are stories from every state and territory and stories close to home.

In 1957, following a visit to The Flats by Charles McLean, commissioned by the newly-elected Premier Henry Bolte, to review and recommend changes to Victoria’s Aboriginal affairs policy, 24 young children were taken from their families and committed to the care of the Children’s Welfare Department by the Children’s Court.

The report’s dedication — ‘‘with thanks and admiration, to those who found the strength to tell their stories’’ — acknowledged the hardships endured and the sacrifices made as a result of successive government policies relating to removal of children.

It also stated, ‘‘We lament all the children who never came home’’.

While giving evidence was painful and difficult, most witnesses appreciated the opportunity and many said giving testimony had contributed to their healing.

‘‘There is some good news I would like to pass on to you. Everyone I have spoken to has said it is like the world has been lifted off their shoulders, because at last we have been heard. For me I have grown stronger and now am able to move forward. You have played a significant part in my journey back...’’ one letter of thanks from a witness read.

Bearing witness to these unpalatable parts of our history is as necessary to our understanding of ourselves as a nation as those parts of our history we celebrate with pride.

As previous Governor-General Sir William Deane stated: ‘‘It should, I think, be apparent to all well-meaning people that true reconciliation between the Australian nation and its indigenous peoples is not achievable in the absence of acknowledgement by the nation of the wrongfulness of the past dispossession, oppression and degradation of the Aboriginal peoples. That is not to say that individual Australians who had no part in what was done in the past should feel or acknowledge person guilt.

‘‘It is simply to assert our identity as a nation and the basic fact that national shame, as well as national pride, can and should exist in relation to past acts and omissions at least when done in the name of the community or with the authority of the government... True acknowledgement cannot stop short of recognition of the extent to which present disadvantage flows from past injustice and oppression.’’

Join with us for the Sorry Day commemoration as we bear witness to and acknowledge the voices and experiences of all those members of the Stolen Generations, removed from family and community.

The commemoration will be held on Friday, May 25, at 10.15am at Monash Park, followed by a commemorative walk to LaTrobe University.

It is another step in our journey to reconciliation.

The report recommended a national Sorry Day be held each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and the ongoing effects on individuals, families and communities.

We encourage everyone to read the Bringing Them Home report.

Visit the website: www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/pdf/social—justice/bringing—them—home—report.pdf

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