Australia: National Sorry Day

Australia: National Sorry Day

A quarter of a million people walked across Sydney Harbour Bridge in May 2000, calling for reconciliation

Australia: the Stolen Generation and a 'national day of healing'

Former Governor-General of Australia Sir Zelman Cowen presents the Sorry Book he has just signed to Melissa Brickell, a representative of the Stolen Generations

In 1997, the Australian public were shaken by the publication of an official report into the 'Stolen Generation': From the 1930s right up to the 1970s, tens of thousands of Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in institutions whose aim was to raise them according to Western culture rather than their own Aboriginal culture. Deprived of their culture and separated from their families, their land and communities, several generations of children were traumatized. Many were also abused physically and sexually. The policy left a legacy of broken people who find it difficult to integrate into society.

Although the report was commissioned by the government of Prime Minister Paul Keating, by the time its findings were published, a new government led by John Howard had come into power. The new government tried to downplay the report and refused to accept its recommendation that there should be an official National Apology.

In response a grass-roots movement developed, driven by a group of organizations including Initiatives of Change. In order to give everyone the opportunity to restore relations between indigenous Australians and Australians from other origins, a National Sorry Day was organized in 1998. In communities across the country, a million people wrote personal messages in ‘Sorry Books’ which were presented to the Stolen Generations. All state governments held events in their parliaments where they heard from Aboriginal representatives and offered apologies. Two years later a quarter of a million people marched across Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, with similar marches around the country to mark what had become an annual National Sorry Day.

In 2007 the Howard government was voted out of office. The first official act of the new parliament was an official apology to the Stolen Generations by Prime Minster Kevin Rudd, which was also supported by the opposition party.

Further information can be found in the book No Enemy to Conquer by Michael Henderson.