It was an historic moment when Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stood in federal parliament on February 13, 2008 and formally apologised to the stolen generation for the immense suffering experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people due to past government policies of forced child removal.
On the tenth anniversary of the speech, have those words made a difference?
Aunty Rhonda Radley, an Aboriginal community member in Port Macquarie said that thinking about the years leading up to the speech brings back the heavy emotions of that day.
“Ten years ago, a number of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members of the community gathered at the Birpai Local Land Council in Port Macquarie to listen to the national apology from Kevin Rudd and it was a very emotional time,” Aunty Rhonda said.
“For me, my grandmother had passed before then and I knew it would have meant a lot to her to hear the apology in regards to having siblings and family members removed by that government policy.
For me, my grandmother had passed before then and I knew it would have meant a lot to her to hear the apology in regards to having siblings and family members removed by that government policyAunty Rhonda
“On that day I was grieving, missing my grandmother, but I also felt grief and sadness of what the impact of the policy had on my family; my direct family but also my mob, Aboriginal people around Australia who had been removed and separated from their families and their community.
“On the tenth anniversary is it a good opportunity for Aboriginal people to come together and celebrate our culture as a way of reminding us about the past.”
Aunty Rhonda said for many people, emotions were running high that day because it was the first time the government had acknowledged how much damaged it had caused.
“It was emotional and heartfelt because it was the first time the government of the day acknowledged us as Aboriginal people, our history and our story, because there has always been this assumption that it didn’t happen,” she said.
“The apology made it real for a lot of people, and for all Australians, to open their minds and their hearts to that and to what it meant.
“We are not just talking about Aboriginal history, we are talking about Australian history.
“We are not just talking about being separated from family members, but also being separated from your land and your mob, so it has a really big impact on you as an individual, on your identity. For me to hear the apology was a really great moment in time.”
Aunty Rhonda said as much as it was a great moment then, 10 years down the track the removal of children from some communities still happens.
“When you look at some Aboriginal communities around the country today, there are a number of places where children are still being removed from homes and we are not yet seeing the long term impact that will have.
“What we need to do as a community is move forward and stop the removal of children, we need to be asking questions about how do we build strong and resilient communities.
“Because as Aboriginal people we walk in two worlds - one with our ancestors but we also walk in one with our culture in the here are now which is obviously changing and has changed.
Because as Aboriginal people we walk in two worlds - one with our ancestors but we also walk in one with our culture in the here are now which is obviously changing and has changed.Aunty Rhonda
“I work very closely with our youth and one thing that we are promoting is the revival of community and culture and what we are trying to do is instill a strong sense of identity into our young ones about who they are, who their mob is and where do they fit into the world.”
She also said we need to look at empowering our youth to be strong leaders – especially the girls.
“I work very closely with young Aboriginal teenage girls in a group called Djiyagan Dhandaan which translates to strong sister. Being a teenager is hard enough, but to then be questioning or be confused by your Aboriginality and your heritage, belonging and culture can be quite challenging; so the group is about supporting our girls, which I think is something that is needed in this day and age.
“The group is also about revitalising the language, which has an important part to play in the revival of our culture because through past government policies, Aboriginal people were not allowed to speak their language and it made the separation from land and community so much worse.
“It is about picking up the pieces and reviving the language and I think that will help our mob gain a deeper understanding of their culture.”
It is about picking up the pieces and reviving the language and I think that will help our mob gain a deeper understanding of their cultureAunty Rhonda
Moving forward, Aunty Rhonda said she is hopeful for the future but also said there are still questions to be asked about how to move on after the apology.
“Yes the government has apologised but the question is – what’s next? The conversation is complex but one that need to be continued.
“The 10 year anniversary is going to be hard because it will bring up a whole range of emotions, but it is a good chance to keep the conversation going and for everyone to think about what is being done and what can be done better.”
The Birpai Local Aboriginal Land Council invites the community to come together in commemorating the 10th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.
The gathering will be held at the Birpai LALC in Aston Street, Port Macquarie on Tuesday, February 13 between 10.30am and 11.30am.
If you are intending to join, you are asked to RSVP for catering purposes on 6584 9066.