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Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Sorry Day post-apology

Meera Atkinson

National Sorry Day marks the anniversary of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report. Now that the Federal Government has apologised to Indigenous Australians we consider the relevance of the day.

 

Sorry Day continues on 26 May, almost 18 months after Kevin Rudd delivered the “sorry” millions of Australians had long been waiting for.

National Reconciliation Week began as the Week of Prayer for Reconciliation in 1993. Starting on 27 May, the anniversary of the 1967 referendum, and ending on 3 June, ‘Mabo Day', National Reconciliation Week was initiated by Faith Communities for Reconciliation. The Uniting Church played a role in the Bringing Them Home report, with Sir Ronald Wilson, past president of the Church and the first moderator of the Synod of Western Australia, hearing submissions and writing the report.

Though there is clearly still a need for focus on reconciliation, some may be tempted to consider Sorry Day itself obsolete. However, many people recognise that though the apology was important and welcome, it was only one of the recommendations made by the Bringing Them Home  report and there is still much to be addressed.

For Cheryl Lawson, resource officer for the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in Western Australia and chair of Congress Youth, the significance of Sorry Day is about a lot more than one word.

“Sorry Day coming to pass is that acknowledgment of what our people went through,” says Cheryl.

Countless Australians feel strongly about the value of Sorry Day. Many of those who took part in the first ever event recall it as a profound experience; joining the throng of people who marched over the Sydney Harbour Bridge in a collective cry of “sorry”.

When the official apology came, the Government finally caught up with the people on the bridge. Cheryl was in Townsville hosting a Congress National Youth Committee meeting.

“It was significant for me. My father was part of the Stolen Generations and he hasn’t spoken to us about his time in the missions, but there’s a sense of what our elderly people went through. If it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be here.”

Cheryl also sees Sorry Day as having an ongoing role in Australian life because, while an apology has been given, there are still amends to be made.

“It happened a long time ago. With the apology there was an acknowledgement of what had taken place, and now it’s a healing process that we need to go through as Aboriginal people. We feel the pain of our families.”

In Aboriginal cultures there is reference to “sorry business” as the process of mourning and it’s this that Cheryl is speaking of — the ongoing grieving process of a country that hasn’t yet achieved true reconciliation.

 


Article first published in The Transit Lounge. To explore this story further, visit The Transit Lounge website.