Peoples Geography — Reclaiming space

Creating people's geographies

Australian National Reconciliation Starts With Sorry

aboriginal_flaggif.jpgOn the 13th of March, at 9am Australian Eastern Standard Time (AEST), Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivers the long awaited public apology to our indigenous Australians, and in particular the Stolen Generation as a central part of reconciliation with Australia’s past. This welcome landmark comes after his Prime Ministerial predecessor, John Howard, expressed regret but refused to say the word sorry. This simple yet powerful act means so much to indigenous Australians, traumatised by being stolen from their parents and for a whole raft of historical injustices. While there is a long way to go, with possible compensation, social indicators and federal intervention in remote central Australian Aboriginal communities still weighty issues, this is a good start.


It is fitting that the famous “If you have come to help me …” quote highlighted below is from an Australian Aboriginal woman, Lila Watson, who wishes it to be attributed collectively.

The PM tabled and subsequently delivered the following text of the apology in Parliament.

RESOURCES: Audio, video and transcript (.pdf here) of speech (just after the fold)

Audio: Listen to Kevin Rudd’s historic speech that includes the motion below plus his subsequent address in the Australian Parliament (30 minutes total):

Video of apology, part 1 (R/T: 3:56)

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.


We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

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 the fathers, the brothers and the 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.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.sorry_over_syney_opera_house.jpg

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.


See also Peter Garrett, Midnight Oil frontman and current Labor MP, It’s time to acknowledge the past (SMH, 12 Feb) and coverage at the National Indigenous Times, Get Up and the ABC. Related sites: Reconciliation AustraliaANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation)National Sorry Day CommitteeStolen Generations Alliance‘Bringing Them Home’ reportHREOC (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission).

10 comments on “Australian National Reconciliation Starts With Sorry

  1. Kilroy
    13 February, 2008

    I think this is just wonderful. Just goes to prove that the Southern Hemisphere is the top of the world in terms of leadership.

    The age of Aquarius looks promising.

    Australia was at the top of the recommended list all day at Daily Kos. Of course it got bumped later by Obama supporters crowing about the Chesapeake Sweep over Hillary. Maybe we’re not far behind you in the U.S.

    Congratulations, Australia. Thanks for setting the example. And good work, Ms. El Khoury. Love that activist poster. I do indeed see my own liberation in justice for all.

  2. Pingback: Reconciliation « Forever Under Construction

  3. homeyra
    13 February, 2008

    To the leaders of the rest of the world:
    Copy this speech 99 times.
    Thanks PPGG for this wonderful news. I love Australia :)

  4. Ann El Khoury
    13 February, 2008

    Thanks very much. There are not many people I know who didn’t weep today, in joy, in pride, in solidarity. Its wonderful to see that solidarity across borders—thanks Kilroy and Homeyra. Indigenous Australians have in turn derived strength and inspiration from civil human rights movements in the States, and indigenous struggles everywhere.

    Today’s event was broadcast everywhere, and people stopped work for half an hour to watch it. Crowds gathered at many points in the city to watch it on big screens, and there was applause, tears, standing ovations. It has been very heartening to witness this overdue event. Aboriginal Australians have been and are my friends, my elders, my students, my inspirations.

    With the last decade in particular being strained, to my mind, and bleeding over into race riots, 9/11 and its attendant demonisation (Tampa, “children overboard”, the SIEV X disaster), Aboriginal deaths in custody, the Northern Territory Federal Government intervention, and the participation in the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, this event comes as such a watershed. There’s still a really long way to go, but its a relief we’ve made this first big step.

  5. michael greenwell
    13 February, 2008

    well said to them, and not a little overdue

  6. 99
    14 February, 2008

    Well, I’m killed by this gorgeous thing.

    This is what leadership is for.

    It has made the travesties across the decades, across the globe, across the heartscape of all humanity, glow like neon, and my grief isn’t finding any frontier.

    Not that * needed anything to accentuate his evil, but Rudd has well and truly come right out of the box showing him as the disease laden tick that he is.

  7. Ann El Khoury
    14 February, 2008

    Exactly, 99, well put, that’s what genuine leadership is for. We have our share of recalcitrants and rednecks here so its good to see leadership being exercised after *’s deputy John Howard was finally booted out, and the majority of Australians support this act.

    Overdue as Michael has noted, yet has shown that an act of justice is not so hard as the naysayers were suggesting and in fact can be inspiring and galvanising. May there be many more to come. Geoffrey Robertson has argued that the British government bears a heavy historic responsibility and should follow suit.

  8. Kilroy
    14 February, 2008

    Hey hey hey! Watch the redneck comments, will ya? ‘S pretty close to home. :D

  9. Ann El Khoury
    14 February, 2008


  10. Anuraag Sanghi
    24 February, 2008

    The Anglo Saxon in particular has done this too often – and too many places. This is their business model. This apology means nothing. The rest of the world needs to look at structures which will ensure that no apologies are needed in future.

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