It’s National Sorry Day. But didn’t we already make the capital-A ‘apology’?
Yes. We did make that Apology – shamefully late, and only after a landslide change of government. And it remains one of the most moving speeches ever delivered in the Australian Parliament.
I was at La Trobe University on the day the Apology was delivered. At the time, I wrote:
I also wrote that there was a long road ahead.
Three years later, and the road is still long. Indigenous people still struggle with the consequences of white settlement, and government policies that dispossessed them of their land, declared them to be flora, damaged their culture and left emotional and physical scars that still haven’t healed. Perhaps they never will.
Yes, there have been some steps down that road, but there is still so much, much more to do. Children need access to quality education. Life expectancy is still far too low when compared to other Australians. Indigenous peoples are still not recognised in our Constitution.
Worst of all, some now want to move backwards. Victorian Premier Ted Baillieu recently announced that his ministers no longer had to follow protocol in recognising indigenous peoples as traditional owners of the land in their speeches. Why? Because it’s ‘dictatorial’. Because it’s ‘too politically correct’.
Or perhaps because it’s an uncomfortable truth that some people still don’t want to face – because if they do, they must also acknowledge that there is blood on their hands. That, even though they might not personally have done anything ‘wrong’, they share the responsibility for the actions of their ancestors. It’s so much easier to sweep it away and hide behind this vague notion that there is something distasteful about stating what is simply true.
And so we come back to the Apology, and why we should keep saying sorry. It’s important that we don’t forget what led to the Apology, why it was necessary in the first place. That we remember how families were torn apart, how children were taught to despise and disown their heritage, how people suffered because Australian people and Australian government were so arrogant as to think they could do as they liked, in the name of ‘assimilation’ and ‘civilisation’.
On National Sorry Day, I say to indigenous peoples that I am sorry. And that I will never forget.