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Anniversary to an Apology

  • 14 February 2022
  This week is bookended by the Anniversary of the Apology to the Stolen Generations (13 February) and World Social Justice Day (20 February). The Anniversary of the Apology recalls a specific, local event which was preceded by long discussion, celebrated with great publicity, and accompanied by great emotion. Social Justice Day is more general and timeless in its reference and largely passes by unnoticed. It offers a larger view of the rhythm of public life. The difference in focus between the two events is like that of the beach seen at the onrush of a king tide with its rearranging of the beach and local flooding and of the view provided by the tide charts and current patterns over a year. These different perspectives need to be held together.  

Certainly the image of the king tide matches the distracted rhythms of current public conversation. The attention span is relatively short, turning from this outbreak to the next. Calls for symbolic action and declamatory statements abound, such relatively small events as demonstrations and insulting behaviour are milked for universal and urgent significance, and forecasts of the reach of the high tide of the coronavirus and the time of its decline are made and changed with undiminished confidence. A disillusioned Macbeth found dismissive words for the superficiality of his previous priorities:

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.  

The reality of life cries out for a fuller view.

Both the importance and the limits of climactic events that catch the public imagination can be seen in the Apology to Indigenous Australians. The Apology by the representatives of Government was a landmark at the juncture of the road from the past and the path to the future. It defined the harm suffered by Indigenous Australians at the hands of governments obsessed by an ignorant and biased ideology. It also vindicated the Indigenous advocates who had long demanded an end to discriminatory attitudes and behaviour within non-Indigenous Australian society and its institutions. It led to official acknowledgement that the indices of health, education, access to services and representation in the justice system for Indigenous Australians should match those for other Australians. Discrepancies should therefore be addressed. As a result, Governments set targets for the move towards equality.

These were good results on