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Eight months on, still sorry

Canberra, 13 February

Day of atonement

a blip in empty space,
a wilderness that held us in awe,
a paradise to steal from the 'noble savage'
so we poisoned their waterholes, used their women,
took the 'half-caste' away, worked them for rations,
their outreached hand yearned for understanding

with their tales writ on the land, painted on canvas
with symbols alien to our eyes,
so we sent the anthropologists and musicologists
to the bush to find the translation,
then we harvested their art designs for a profit,
ignoring their meaning ... we gathered the smoke of the gum leaves
onto our faces, usurping their ritual blessing with hardened hearts,
and still we turned our heads away, biding our time,
their stories of pain falling on deaf ears,
but behind the façade was a cry
from the depths that rang in our ears,
disturbed our restful slumber,
left us no peace until we turned around,
and listened ...
some of us struggled to retrace our steps
and remember where we stumbled whilst in the throes
of founding a nation, where in the groove of history
we could pick ourselves up, and begin to set things right,
and so it was, in Canberra,
alongside screens from across the globe,
where many eyes focused on this fateful day to witness
a new national leader seize the first opportunity
to begin his regime with one word
offered to those who were hardly a blip in empty space,
and bound to be bred out and consigned to oblivion!
on this day, our peace offering began with one word
that reverberated from beyond the grave to the living.
what past, what present, what future
could be conceived
with a simple acknowledgement
that realises, that to trample on our first people's rights
would sow the seeds of our own destruction,
for they are at the core of our collective soul —
theirs was the gift of oneness with the land;
oneness with the Spirit.
with one word that creates a ray of hope,
that respects their sacred presence in our midst,
we say,


oh what a mighty word this has become
to begin Australia's healing;
their song lines now await
our spiritual re-birth.

Deborah WallDeborah Ruiz Wall is the author of Reconciliation, Love and Other Poems (Women's Reconciliation Network, Sydney, 2006) and a former board member of the NSW Reconciliation Council.


Topic tags: Ruiz Wall, day of atonement, national apology, first australians, stolen generations, new australian poem



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Existing comments

Do you remember those lines from one of Eliza's songs in the musical My Fair Lady? - "Words, words, words, words. First from him, now then from you, is that all you blighters can do?" and then "if you're in love, show me."

Eight months on and 'sorry' is still just a word. I suspect that someone is still waiting for us to show that we really do love them.

John Sabine | 14 October 2008  

mighty word? awaiting rebirth? hardly. whilst the sorry was much anticipated and long overdue, it is hollow until Indigenous rights are protected in practice - and nowhere more so than the NT where just about all aspect of Aboriginal lives are under government control in days which seem to ark back to the very days this poet describes. The Racial Discrimination Act is still suspended under the "Intervention" and people are still hurting. When are we going to open our ears to those stories? Indeed, trampling on "our first peoples" rights will be the seed of our own destruction, and the ongoing destruction of a race of intelligent and compassionate human beings, Australian Aborigines.

alyssa | 15 October 2008  

Wonderful. Thank you. I have been watching with awe First Australians on SBS and salute the wonderful courage of women like Trugannini and men like Bennelong who were so brutally treated by white settlers.

Marilyn | 16 October 2008  

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