Why saying sorry isn’t enough

Year 10 student Joseph Wilson explains why National Sorry Day should have a higher profile in the community.

Image: Joseph Wilson: "Reflecting on Sorry Day makes me think of my Elders and what they endured."

National Sorry Day, which recognises the victims of the Stolen Generations, is a bandaid fix upon a 250-year-old gaping wound of festering crimes against our First Nations people.

The story of the Stolen Generations was laid out in the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report, which was tabled in Parliament on May 26, 1997. It told how the Stolen Generations were the victims of a government policy that involved the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities so they would abandon their cultural heritage and adopt white culture.

One of the report’s recommendations was for an annual National Sorry Day to be adopted, with the first day being held on May 26, 1998. However it took 11 years for the Australian Government to say sorry when on February 13, 2008, Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister of Australia, publicly apologised to members of the Stolen Generations of Australia.

The Stolen Generations is just one of many criminal acts against the First Nations people of Australia that have occurred in the past 250 years. Aboriginal people have been the victims of mass murder, referring to Aboriginals as flora or fauna, enslavement, stealing of lands, the abolishment of culture, rape, assimilation policies, kidnapping and forced Christianity.

When I think of this long list of atrocities I wonder, ‘Why say sorry to just the Stolen Generations?’ Why apologise for this particular crime when there are so many others as well?

Reflecting on Sorry Day makes me think of my Elders and what they endured. I think of my great-great-great-great grandmother who worked as a slave for a white family until the 1920s raising her master’s children as well as her own until she died of the flu.

I think of my great-great grandfather who chose to become a Baptist minister in the 1940s and worked with the Aboriginal Inland Mission to avoid having his children, one of them being my great grandmother, forcibly removed from his care.

I think of the racism my great grandmother endured as an Aboriginal woman who chose to marry a white Irishman. My great grandmother was 23 years old before she was even considered a part of our national population thanks to the 1967 referendum. For all of the struggles they endured is it enough to apologise only to the Stolen Generations?

The emptiness of this day of apology is also reflected in how it is presented in my local community. Truth be told, I didn’t even know about Sorry Day until I made it to high school. This is due to the community’s lack of awareness of the day and unwillingness to raise its profile through commemoration ceremonies.

The day is often forgotten by many. I believe that the majority of people in my home town would not be able to tell you when it is. This might be different in other places and communities, but here hardly anyone even gives the day a second thought. There is a speech given at an assembly at our high school, then the day just continues as normal. Sorry Day in Hay isn’t really “celebrated” as much as it is simply mentioned.

While Sorry Day contains a great message and is obviously important to those it remembers, the Stolen Generations and their families, it holds little meaning for me because of the lack of recognition throughout the community. It also does not begin to make amends for the other crimes my family and other First Nations families have endured.

Joseph Wilson is a proud Wiradjuri man from Hay in NSW. He is a Year 10 student at Hay War Memorial High School, Dubbo School of Distance Education and Aurora College.

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