The historic formal apology which will be delivered to Indigenous Australians in Canberra this morning won’t change anything much — it won’t lift anyone out of poverty; it won’t improve health care services anywhere; it won’t guarantee access to education, employment, or a fair go for even one Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. But it will heal, and healing is the first step to everything.
After living for 11 years under the narrow-minded and mean government of John Howard, it seemed like today was an impossible dream. Howard’s refusal to utter the word ‘sorry’ not only prevented the injured parties in this shameful chapter in our history from finding peace, it marked Howard as a cold, heartless and unimaginative man. His successive election wins made us think perhaps that was what Australia wanted or, worse yet, all we deserved. But today there is a real sense of momentum in the air as the dignitaries, elders, politicians and governors arrive in Canberra to hear our new leader utter a simple, unremarkable word: ‘sorry’.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and fathers, the brothers and sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
Australia has taken the process to heart – the newspapers, radio and TV are providing blanket coverage, thoughtful analysis and, yes, the inevitable scarping criticism (Howard may be gone but his cronies linger on). I’m gladdened by that. Australia has found its soul, it’s moral compass, again.
It’s just a symbol, and symbols don’t change things in the real world. A symbol won’t heal the kids infected with STDs; the whole communities addicted to alcohol and drugs; the desperate inequality between black and white. But it will heal the heartbreak that still remains more than three decades after the end of the cruel, if sometimes well-intentioned, policy of breaking up families, denying children their parents and refusing to face the truth.
Today we are facing the truth, and today I am proud to be Australian.
Related: I made my own apology on National Sorry Day almost ten years ago. You can read it here.
Update, 9:33 a.m.: It is done. I have tears in my eyes.
Image above: Candles form the words “Sorry, The First Step” on the lawn outside Parliament House in Canberra on Monday in an action by GetUp.org.au. Photo: ABC News.