Sorry Day – 26 May

View over crowd at Federation Square

The gathering observing one minute’s silence at Federation Square

NOTE – Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander viewers should be aware this report contains images of and references to persons who have passed away.

The theme of this year’s gathering at Federation Square, marking now the tenth anniversary of the Bringing Them Home report on the Stolen Generations (see was “Stories Untold but not Forgotten”. Attendance was probably somewhat smaller than last year, for whatever reasons, but those who came were rewarded by a rich experience in story, dance and song, as well as being given much to think about in terms of what has happened – or not happened – over the last ten years and longer.

Proceedings began according to custom with ‘Welcome to Country’ from elders representing the traditional owners of the land, Aunty Joy Murphy-Wandin for the Wurundjeri people and Aunty Carolyn Briggs for the Boonerwrung people. Both they and later speakers appealed for those with untold stories to come forward and share them, and for others to respond. There was solemn wreath-laying, followed by a minute’s silence to remember those who has passed on, and a member of the stolen generations told some of her story. There was dance from the Mur Toong Ba Marndall group, song from Martin Pascoe, and David Dryden played the didjeridoo – and made some pointed remarks … About midday people began a walk – not a march – up Swanston Street via the Mall to Parliament House, led as in past years by banners carried by children from Collingwood College, before carrying on to Billabong Park for the final activities of the day.

Aunty Joy speaking

Aunty Joy delivers ‘Welcome to Country’

Here is part of what she said:

… and it is important that we remember to tell other people and as is the theme of Sorry Day for this year ‘Stories Untold but not Forgotten’ … that those of us who have not told out stories I urge you to tell your stories.

She went on to quote from a poem written by a young woman she had visited at Parkville residential centre, that she could be locked up and the key thrown away, but her spirit can never be taken away…

and continued:

I’m very concerned [about]what the Federal Government is doing in terms of the issues in the Northern Territory and I feel that no matter what our differences are in our communities – and we will always have differences because we are different, we are a diverse group of people – but we all stand for one thing and that’s the right for our people to have a say and to support our brothers and sisters when they need us. This is a time for us on Sorry Day to stand up and tell the Federal Government not what they think that they should do but what we as the community [want], and to support the Northern Territory in what they need in these terrible times… being outraged [?] that this exposure has taken place, but it is there, we can’t walk away from it, we must do something about it, we must protect our children, and certainly what we’ve got to do is keep our families together …

Aunty Carolyn Briggs speaking

Aunty Carolyn Briggs

After recalling how the local people, led by her ancestor Derrimut, welcomed the Europeans as guests, only to lose their land to the newcomers, Aunty Carolyn went on:

The struggles [were] continued by the descendants of the original owners for many years. During the struggle there has been pain for many of our people and also very many achievements. Today we are all Australians, but I ask you to reflect and remember the achievements of our ancestors in protecting and maintaining our heritage, our culture, and our dreams. Because today Melbourne is a rich multicultural city and the spirit of our ancestors and our rich heritage is still alive today. It is … sharing our history and our heritage that brings us together through a common bond. In the spirit of generosity taught to us by our ancestors I welcome you to this country. Bunjil taught us to always welcome visitors, but he required them to make two promises: not to harm the land of Bunjil, and not to harm the children of Bunjil …

See also Yarra Healing, especially the link to Stories & Voices.

The next speaker was Melbourne’s Lord Mayor, John So, who was followed by Melissa Bricknell, Chair of the National Sorry Day Committee, who took up the theme of the day, and fact that this was the tenth ‘Sorry Day’:

… 10 years ago we were telling our stories, and I think then people were thinking when they were telling their stories that something would be done, that justice would be done. We’re waiting for that justice. We haven’t just been waiting for the 10 years, either, we’ve been waiting for over 200 years for justice. And today is an opportunity to recall the true black wars, that part of the story that Australia wants to hide. And the Howard government wants to go overseas, wants to fix other people’s problems overseas – that’s fine – but he ought to be fixing the problems in his own country and he ought to be paying more attention to the needs of Aboriginal people …[loud applause]. It doesn’t matter whether he likes us or not. We live here. We’re visible. We’re not going to go away …

Mur Toong Ba Marndall dancers

Mur Toong Ba Marndall dancers

Martin Pascoe & John Favaro

Martin Pascoe & John Favaro

 David Dryden playing didjeridoo

David Dryden

Before playing, David Dryden had a few words to say, including the following;

[This has been happening for 10 years] and 10 years later it’s still happening, we’re still saying ‘sorry’ 10 years later. We are. They’re not … them fellas over there aren’t either. I’m sorry that I’ve got to be here today on a ‘Sorry Day’. This shouldn’t be happening. It should never have happened to us people. It’s alright for the Lord Mayor to say we’ve got this and we’ve got that for Aboriginal people. We got Wurundjeri Way down the road here. Birrarung Marr. And he said a few other little things – Sandridge Bridge … Does that make Jacky Jacky happy now? Give him these token little things… It’s a lot more that just a bridge. How about some Land Rights? [loud applause] How about saying ‘Sorry’’ ? [applause] How about not taking our children away? How about stopping the deaths in custody? What about all them things that are happening? We’ve got the Rt. Honorable whatsisname … I’ve forgot his name, that fella who spoke, The Aboriginal affairs minister, I forgot – I’m sure he’s here, not connected to our land [strong emphasis], not connected to our land …

Earlier, he had turned his back on John So while the Lord Mayor was speaking; now he had a special message for him:

and I want to say … there’s a T-shirt going around, there was at the Stolenwealth Games [applause]: John So is my bro. John So, you’re not my bro, you’re just a little so and so … [prolonged applause]

Eva-Jo Edwards with sister Angela and brother Talgium

Eva-Jo Edwards with sister Angela and brother Talgium

In keeping with the theme of the day, the next speaker tried, as she put it, to fit a lifetime’s story into 2 minutes. Born August 1963, removed from parents in Swan Hill may 1969, taken with her four sisters and two brothers to Allambie reception centre for approximately six months, “then we were all separated and placed in institutions across Melbourne…”

“I would just like to say that [3 of] my sons …were three of the dancers which have performed for you and just wanted to let you know how proud I am of them …”

There were two more speakers before the walk set off, first Muriel Bamblett from the Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency, who began by acknowledging the presence of non-Aboriginal people:

This year and every other year we come here – we come and we talk about our mourning and what is happening in our communities. We share our mourning with you, we share our joys. We also share our hope and our despair. Today I think it’s important that we remember those that have suffered and are still suffering. There are those that are suffering from racist policies. And I know that I was in Mildura recently and let me tell you racism is definitely alive … in this country. So the fact that there are so many non-Aboriginal people [here] shows that this country is perhaps on the way to doing something about it. So thank you very much to all those non-Aboriginal people that are here today supporting us.

Referring to events in the Northern Territory, she went on:

… the Federal Minister recently came out and said that we Aboriginal people had been self-determining for so long it’s now time for the government to take over. How many people here would agree that we have been self-determining? Not many, for sure. The Minister for Indigenous Afairs blames culture and self-determination for the problem of child abuse in the Territory, but I ask you, how can an isolated community that’s under-resourced, impoverished, be said to be self-determining? How much self-determination do you have when you’re dealing constantly with the level of grief, loss and trauma … when children chrome because they’re cold and hungry? The so-called policies of self-determination of the past were under-resourced and people have been doing it for nothing for so many years, we need to build the capacity, there’s little money spent on building the capacity of our communities. It’s now time for our communities to take control and start taking the leadership ourselves. The issues raised by the Alice Springs Crown Prosecutor concerning Aboriginal family violence [were] first raised by Aboriginal people. We’ve been raising this for years. The family violence task force over the last couple of years has been talking about the issue of sexual abuse in our communities. And we’ve been wanting to do something about it. But we still get ignored. We need to have everybody be serious. If the politicians and the general community are serious about stemming the rise of family violece they need to go beyond sensationalism and fuelling the fires of racism. Aboriginal communities must be resourced to regain control over our lives. Responsibilities can only be acted upon when the rights are recognised and people are provided with the capacity to control their own future. Yes minister, it is a law and order issue, and the answer is to restore Aboriginal law and Aboriginal order. Family violence is not our way. Alcohol and drugs and petrol addiction are not our way. These are the fruits of invasion not the fruits of our culture …

Finally, the hapless Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Gavin Jennings addressed the gathering, but was heckled by members of the family of an Aboriginal man in prison in the USA. (Last year he was blamed for the lack of a proper PA system at Parliament House …) As Lisa Bellear, MC of this part of proceedings, remarked, perhaps being Minister for Aboriginal Affairs wouldn’t be so much fun after all:

Protesters turn their backs as Gavin Jennings speaks

Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gavin Jennings

People then got themselves organised to set off on a walk up Swanston Street, led by the children and banners of Collingwood College, and kept together by marshals in suitably inscribed jackets:

March setting off led my Collingwood School banner

Another view of march - Quaker banner

On the march - marshal's jacket inscribed 'Sorry'

View of crowd at steps of Parliament House

Outside Parliament House

From the National Sorry Day Committee:

Statement 2006

‘Stories Untold but Not Forgotten’

For the wider community the story of the Stolen Generations remains an untold story. But for Indigenous communities, there is a determination that the Stolen Generation story will never be forgotten.

This year’s National Sorry Day event in Melbourne on May 26 will be a time for story telling and remembering Stolen Generations individuals and families. It is a time for listening to their pain, for mourning their loss, validating their pain and suffering, and for celebrating their resilience.

The National Inquiry established in 1995 and conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission ten years ago now, culminated in the release of the Bringing Them Home Report on May 26 1997. It made clear that Australia had perpetrated a gross violation of Aboriginal human rights with 777 testimonials of forced removal, 535 by Stolen Generations. The report stated that the number of stories was not indicative of the numbers of forced removals. Estimates have varied from 10 000 to 50 000 and so there remains many stories yet untold.

The Federal Government’s apology and ‘sorry’ is still untold and that is another story. It can no longer be asked “Why weren’t we told?” (Kim Beazley 1997). We have been telling and retelling with grief stricken hearts for the last ten years. The endured suffering of Stolen Generations is yet to be adequately addressed. We call on the government, as we have done since 1997, for a recommitment to the full implementation of the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report. We are challenged by ineffectual government leadership on this issue.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities continue to suffer from the intergenerational impacts of the separation of families. Stolen Generations are still searching for family and home. An important part of healing and the healing of relationships between our communities is for us to join together so that the story of the Stolen Generations is told and retold.

We acknowledge with gratitude the many non-indigenous people, churches, governments and welfare agencies that have apologised and continue to walk with us over the many years towards justice. We particular thank the Victorian State Government and the Yarra and Melbourne City Councils for their support and willingness to be with us.

For the non-indigenous community, churches, welfare organisations and governments we ask you to commit to the truth of this story and work together to implement the recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report.

We invite the wider Victorian community and those who seek justice, peace and reconciliation to a time of remembering, mourning, healing and celebrating the resilience of Victoria’s Stolen Generations.

On National Sorry Day Friday May 26 we start Gathering at 10:00am at Federation Square; incorporating scenes from last year’s Sorry Day, Welcome to Country, Wreath Laying Ceremony, Indigenous Dancers and Community Guest Speakers. 11.30am Walk from Federation Square to Parliament House; Wreath Laying, Floral tributes, Organisation’s Guest Speakers. 1.00pm Welcome, Smoking Ceremony, Dancers, Speakers, Musicians and children’s activities. Lunch provided.

For further Information contact: Sorry Day Coordinator Denise Lovett Dickson 0401536746 or Olly Phillips 0421030423

Stolen Generations Victoria Sorry Day Committee