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Thoughts on the Apology from a Stolen Generations child


'Stolen Generations' by Chris JohnstonIt is now five years since the historic National Apology to the Stolen Generations by the Australian government. When it happened the Stolen Generations (of which my mother was a member), their families, friends and supporters wept. It was a moment we never thought would happen. I felt I finally mattered, and that it mattered what happened to my family and community. We needed to hear that Apology.

We never expected the Apology would resolve all the ills of colonial takeover and oppression, nor the intergenerational grief and pain that impacts present day Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. But the words of the Apology gave a sense of expectation that greater justices, and the implementation of the full recommendations of the Bringing Them Home report, are still possible for Stolen Generations.

Yet the grief and sadness remain despite the best intentions of the government at the time. The government refuses to offer compensation and reparations as per the recommendations of Bringing Them Home. The suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act, the Intervention and income management policies add further pressure on our community and push the ongoing issues of the Stolen Generations further down the line.

Fortunately there are small groups quietly advocating for full justice for the Stolen Generations. Generally, these are the same groups that drove the people's movement towards the Apology. These groups are choosing practical ways to seek justice. This includes the push for Stolen Generations history to be taught in all Australian schools, and the pursuit of memorials as culturally appropriate places to remember and pay respect.

The government built the national reconciliation memorial, with a significant tribute to Stolen Generations. The river of tears at the memorial site is fitting: the grief and trauma of Stolen Generations, their families and their communities, is present and very real. The memorial was a first step which moved beyond the denial in Australian history that anything wrong or evil ever happened to Aboriginal people.

The Australian government should also consider a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander memorial day, to validate the pain and suffering of Stolen Generations and recognise the historical crimes of massacres, black wars, genocide and gross violation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human rights. It already funds the Healing Foundation for retributive programs.

The Apology itself suggests the possibility of healing for Stolen Generations and other Australians with saddened hearts. Stolen Generations and their families and many other Australians continue to come together to celebrate the Apology, and to put pressure on the government to fully realise justice for Stolen Generations peoples. Some organisations are still offering programs, and their work continues to support the Stolen Generations.

But we should not dwell on the Apology and glorify it while there is still much-needed support and greater justice to be achieved for Stolen Generations and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

The denial of natural justice through compensation for genocide is a selfish decision with moral implications. This chapter in Australia's history is not yet complete. The reparations and compensation to Stolen Generations by government would be a truer reflection of the recognition of our human rights, but alas this basic legal right to justice is denied. Until all the gaps for Stolen Generations are filled, the grief and trauma will continue.

Failure to implement the 54 recommendations of Bringing Them Home and to fully address Stolen Generations issues is simply a continuation of the mistakes of the past. There needs to be cultural restoration and full reparations accorded the Stolen Generations, with full human rights restored to bring about a just human co-existence for Aboriginal people and all who live in this country. This is what matters now. 


Melissa Brickell headshotMelissa Brickell is a Yorta Yorta Wiradjeri woman and the daughter of a member of the Stolen Generations, and Director of Reconciliation Victoria.

Topic tags: Stolen Generations, National Apology, Kevin Rudd, Bringing Them Home, Julia Gillard, Intervention



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Existing comments

Well written Melissa. A genuine apology is powerful indeed and the Apology to the Stolen Generations was a very necessary first step towards true reconciliation. The Apology can't wipe away the pain though and the Australian government needs to implement change and a changed attitude. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices need to be privileged in any conversation about implementation of policy towards Indigenous Australians. And I believe a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander memorial day would help lead to a recognition of the depth of suffering.

Pam | 11 February 2013  

Well said Melissa. :-)

Sandy | 11 February 2013  

Reconciliation? How do people 'reconcile' themselves to having their land stolen and lifestyle destroyed? Is a 'process of reconciliation' what is missing in the theft of Palestine? Is that where Israel has gone wrong, in not offering an 'apology' and trying to get Palestinians to 'reconcile' themselves to their new status, stateless and homeless? Perhaps the whole language of 'reconciliation' is part of the problem? And what would happen to any cash dividend paid out to these people? Would it 'resolve' anything for them? Maybe, I am not one of them so cannot say but I rather doubt it.

janice wallace | 13 February 2013  

I urge Government and church to consider Melissa’s words deeply and her fair request to implement the remaining recommendations of the 1997 "Bringing Them Home" report, including compensation. These can be found at http://humanrights.gov.au/social_justice/bth_report/report/index.html Melissa mentioned present day ‘human rights’ concerns, including the Intervention. Now extended in the NT under the unwanted and ironically named Stronger Futures (SF) legislation package for 10 years. For a quick glimpse refer http://www.concernedaustralians.com.au/media/Stronger_Futures_chart.pdf It is time to turn the page forward. Minutes ago an Act of Recognition passed through the House of Representatives recognising A&TSI peoples as the first peoples of this land. “A step forwards.” But, only last year on June 29th the same house passed pre-determined & highly discriminatory legislation on A&TSI Territorians, even before the Senate released its inquiry findings! The process lacked transparency at every step & the legislation even latter denied human rights scrutiny! Read “A Decision To Discriminate “(Oct 2012). A&TSI views IGNORED. There are serious current day failings in Indigenous Affairs and wider democratic process. “We stepped back decades”. The National Apology 5 years ago was a start. Let’s move beyond symbolism- recognise A&TSI human & Indigenous rights- implement the full recommendations of the 1997 report.

Georgina Gartland | 13 February 2013  

Janice Wallace, you make a good point about dispossession and the language of reconciliation. However, your questioning of the demand for compensation is I think mean-spirited. As you say, your are not "one of them", so why not leave it up to "them" to decide how to use any money that is paid out? To do otherwise is just another form of condescension at best and repression at worst.

Frank Golding | 13 February 2013  

Dear Melissa, I can sympathise with you. My great grandfather lost his family and his properties and died in custody in an English prison where he was incarcerated for trying to regain his property from the English invaders. His wife and son were left to starve and left their homelands in Ireland,ending up in Australia. That for me was two generations ago. Queen Elizabeth II recently apologised to the Irish people for the travesty of British invasion of their country which, as you will recall, also produced heartfelt tears and relief, overdue, yet incomplete reconciliation. I find that in Australia all human rights have been restored for me and this does not translate into financial compensation. Do not you and your people enjoy the same human rights that I and my family do in Australia? If not, it would greatly enhance the conversation if you and your people could articulate for an invader, like me, born in this country, exactly what rights the Aboriginal people are denied. Then we could genuinely address the issue and I can assure you that I for one would support anything that must be done to advance your people and, more importantly, to restore to its pristine beauty a magnificent culture, married to creation and the land like no other. Because, like all the maudlin of Irish culture who shed an easy tear, I'm sure many non-Aboriginal people in this country can cry for your people too, as many did at the time of Kevin Rudd's apology. It is up to you and your people, not to government interference, to restore the culture, something that is not dependent on easily lost white fella's compensation.

john frawley | 13 February 2013  

@Janice Wallace, 'How do people 'reconcile' themselves to having their land stolen and lifestyle destroyed?' In the biblical interpretation of 'reconcilation', one of the meanings is an 'agreement of things seemingly opposite, different or inconsistent'. This seems to be a good basis for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians to approach this issue. The past cannot be changed, but the present and future can. The only true peace for all Australians involves attempting to not just co-exist but to exist in a state of harmony. And it starts with listening deeply to indigenous voices.

Pam | 13 February 2013  

Frank, you are off target. I have no objection at all to compensation being paid for all the theft and destruction Indigenous peoples have endured. But I see a real reluctance to provide them with an equal share of what we should all be getting, as Australians, at the moment, as demonstrated in the health and educational status of many, particularly those in the desparate areas beyond the coastal whitie strip. I question the wisdom of hurling cash into an already dysfunctional setting, and if 'compensation' is going to mean building schools, houses, hospitals, medical centres and so on, shouldn't those already be available, as they are in mainstraem Australia. There is no doubt Indigenous people can and should aim to be compensated for their loss, but what about also getting the basics fixed up first, as every non-Indigenous person would expect to have provided, so there will be no expectations that this yet to be provided compensation is not just delivered from the state with an expectation that it will be spent on basic infrastructure/services they should already have?

janice wallace | 13 February 2013  

What I find so offensive is our white parliament nicely deciding to acknowledge the indigenous owners of the land in the white mans constitution written by the invaders. When do the aboriginal peoples of this land get to decide if they want to accept us? It's sort of like a squatter demanding more rights than the owner and demanding the owner accept his theft of their land and home.

Marilyn | 13 February 2013  

Such a remembrance day could replace the current Australia Day: and would be a regular and timely reminder of the special needs of indigenous Australians who for far too long continue to suffer deprivation at the hands of white settlers.

David | 13 February 2013  

I am not aware that I am a descendant of an aborigine person but I am aware that Governments and people here and in the overseas countries where my ancestors came from have treated some of them pretty badly. We however got on with it and have to various degrees been successful, I think that instead of asking for money to pay for past injustices it would be better if we all got behind the efforts to remove disadvantage arising from what ever cause. There is only so much money and intellectual resource available for the task and spending it on matters consequent to Kevin Rudd saying sorry is distracting from the real task at hand. We need to spend time learning how to be better Australians and relating to this land we all love and treasure. Let's learn from each other.

Ken Fuller | 13 February 2013  

I am child of the 50's & eldest of 6. I was a voracious reader & always sympathize with our indigenous. Maybe because our parents were extremely abusive it gave me some idea of empathy towards them. I went to High school with a stolen generation. I am 64 now and have wondered how she has fared. I applaud Rudd for the apology but I also viewed it with cynicism. It can never take away the loss & fear felt by the unwilling participants. Australia isn't the only one who did this to their indigenous. I hope it never ever happens again. Sadly it probably will sometime in the future.

Kathleen Bowen | 15 February 2013  

To talk of genocide in relation to the history of Australia is just another exaggeration. The people of today and yesterday had worries about the fate of children denied opportunities for development in a western oriented society. What we need to do is to work together to remove disadvantage and offer all children of this great country the opportunity to achieve personal fulfillment. I see a continuum of occupation of the land over the last 70 000 years or so and my orientation is to gain a knowledge of what is good [ by today's standards ]from the experience of all those that have gone before. There is much from the past practices that we must discard but let us keep the good stuff that differentiates Australians from the peoples of other lands.

Ken Fuller | 15 February 2013  

That was very well said. I was looking for a subject to do my first uni assessment on and first started with adoption then was compelled to study more about the stolen generation. I dont want to stop researching there are so many things that dont make sense and are so unfair and i want do this subject justice. I am glad i know more about what happened and i hope my paper makes more people understand our horrible history and how an apology is like putting a bandaid on. My heart goes out to those that lost and those that were taken.

Nicole Dickson | 31 March 2013  

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