This year marks the 20th anniversary of the tabling in the Federal Parliament of the Bringing Them Home Report — the report that identified the profound loss and trauma caused by the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report recommended: “That the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, in consultation with the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, arrange for a national ‘Sorry Day’ to be celebrated each year to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects.” Here, we bring you an account of the Sorry Day Observance in Shepparton, 2017.
National Sorry Day is an Australia-wide observance held on May 26 each year. This day gives people the chance to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations, their families and communities. Stolen Generations refer to Aboriginal Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities. A Sorry Day observance was held at Monash Park Shepparton, on Friday May 26, 2017. The event was facilitated by Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group, the City of Greater Shepparton, Yorta Yorta Nation, Rumbalara Aboriginal Co-operative and Latrobe University. Students from local schools led the Sorry Day event.
April Atkinson of Mooroopna Secondary College read the Introduction: Sorry Day is now commemorated nationally with thousands of Australians from all walks of life participating in gatherings to commemorate and remember all those who have been impacted by the government policies of forcible removal. It was these policies that resulted in the Stolen Generations.
Shania Jones of Mooroopna Secondary College then read the History: It is important that we remember there has been a long history of injustice for the Aboriginal peoples of this country commencing with years of invasion, genocide, massacres and dispossession. This was followed by many generations of living under the different laws and policies that governed and kept people imprisoned on reserves and missions.
These laws and policies were imposed on the very general and most intimate parts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ lives. They applied not just to their living and working conditions, but everyday decisions about personal, social, emotional, religious and recreational aspects of their lives. The First Peoples of Australia know racism and oppression.
They know suffering and pain, having lived with the impacts of personal experiences and remembered histories of what was done to them, their families and communities. Shania Jones then led the Sorry Day observance into the need for reconciliation: Therefore, a real process of trust and relationship building is necessary and will take time, energy and patience for a true Reconciliation path to be forged.
Chelsea Merkel, TJ Turner and Moroka Boon from Notre Dame College led the gathering in the Laying of the Wreath and Minute’s Silence: Chelsea Merkel called upon Sam Cashion and Sarah Firebrace from ASHE to lay a wreath at the base of the flagpole as a mark of respect and to commemorate those members of the Stolen Generations past and present. We acknowledge their profound sense of loss, grief and suffering pain and suffering.
TJ Turner of Notre Dame College then asked those that are able, to stand for a minute’s silence to pause to remember those who were taken from their families and to acknowledge the pain and suffering this practice caused to individuals, their families and communities.
Moroka Boon of Notre Dame College then called upon Denzel Jackson, Dylan Olsen, Jake Cooper, Kayden Mansfield and Tara Woolley from Berry Street School who will raise the three flags – the Aboriginal flag, the Torres Strait Islander flag and the Australian Flag.
Taleah Briggs of Shepparton High School spoke about the Bringing Them Home Report: The Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families is a tribute to the strength and struggles of many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by forcible removal. We acknowledge the hardships they endured and the sacrifices they made. We remember and lament all the children who will never come home.
Taleah Ahmat from Shepparton High School told the gathering that the Report was dedicated, with thanks and admiration, to those who found the strength to tell their stories to the Inquiry and to the generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people separated from their families and communities. Today we also acknowledge those who told their stories and those who were separated from their families and communities.
Tannah Thorne of Goulburn Valley Grammar gave a Bridge Walk Reflection: Seventeen years ago, in 2000, the word ‘Sorry’ was written in the sky above 300,000 Australians walking across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Other Bridge Walks around the country took the numbers to over 500,000. Reconciliation will not happen if we let the future move forward without acknowledging and putting right the wrongs of the past. Sorry Day is an important part of this reconciliation journey. After the historic bridge walks it’s fair to say the future for reconciliation is far better than in the past. And while there’s still a way to go, respect, trust and the knowledge to turn good intentions into effective actions pave the way forward.
Will Dwyer from Goulburn Valley Grammar continued the reflection: Reconciliation has been a journey that has exposed truths, shared and celebrated stories of pride and strength such as the lives of Uncle William Cooper and Uncle Doug Nicholls , and woven together a hopeful vision of a future where respect lives in the hearts, minds and actions of all Australians. So let’s all walk and work together!
Ashlee Kirkpatrick of Sirius College gave an overview of Reconciliation Week 2017:
Tomorrow is the beginning of National Reconciliation Week – a week that is celebrated across Australia each year between May 27 and June 3. These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey – the anniversary of the successful 1967 referendum on May 27 and the 1992 High Court Mabo decision on June 3 which recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had rights to the land – rights that existed before the British arrived and can still exist today.
The theme for National Reconciliation Week 2017 is “Let’s take the Next Steps”
This year, we reflect on two significant anniversaries in Australia’s reconciliation journey.
May 26 marks the 50th anniversary of Australia’s most successful referendum and a defining event in our country’s history. The 1967 referendum saw over 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and recognise them in the national census. For the first time Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would be included in the population.
Rafl Alaathamy of Sirius College continued the talk on National Reconciliation Week: June 3 is the 25th anniversary of the High Court of Australia’s landmark Mabo decision that overturned the concept of “Terra Nullius” or Nobody’s Land.
At the time of the First Fleet arrival in 1788, the British Government acted as if Australia was uninhabited. So instead of admitting it was invading land that belonged to Aboriginal people, Britain acted as if it was settling on empty land.
The Mabo decision legally recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have a special relationship to the land – a relationship that existed before colonialisation and still exists today. This recognition paved the way for land rights or Native Title.
National Reconciliation Week reminds us that big changes like the 1967 Referendum and the 1992 Mabo decision take persistence and courage.
As we commemorate these significant milestones, we ask all Australians to be a part of the next big steps in our nation’s reconciliation journey We invite you all to take part.
So let’s celebrate and together take the next steps.
Students from Sirius College at the Sorry Day Celebration