Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Why is 'Sorry' the hardest word?

Wayne Costelloe is one of the people who has signed the National Sorry Day Committee's online petition calling for PM Howard to say 'sorry' to the Stolen Generations. In the petition, he wrote:
My Mother, may God rest her soul was taken away from her mother when she was 2 years old and spent her growing years without her mother and father. He mother, my Grandmother was taken away when she was a similar age and used to break down and cry whenever she'd tell us the Elders used to put mud on her skin so she'd look darker and wouldn't be taken. This is real human history and the impacts it had on our Family are real. What they both went through was horrendous and deserves an apology.
It is time the Government implemented Recommendation 5a of the Bringing Them Home Report – a national apology.

The National Sorry Day Committee (NSDC) has organised the petition calling for Prime Minister John Howard, "in this Election Year, to Say Sorry to the Indigenous People who have been affected by the Forced Removal Policies". I've heard that the petition is due to be sent to parliament tomorrow, Thursday 24 May, so please hurry and add your name to the online petition.

This Saturday 26 May will be the 10th anniversary of the launch of Bringing Them Home, the Report from the Inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

Considering the totally inadequate response by the Howard government to the Stolen Generations report and its recommendations, especially his refusal to offer a national apology to the Stolen Generations, there is still a lot of unfinished business in this matter. Of the Report's 54 recommendations, the NSDC says only two have been fully implemented nationally. 10 years after the report's release, community organisations, church leaders and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities continue to call for a national apology by the Prime Minister.

Personally, I believe that it is never too late to sorry. However, I think it is too late for this Prime Minister.

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At May 24, 2007 9:41 am, Blogger philjohnson said...

I feel that the problem goes deeper. It is an outrage that Howard refuses to say "sorry" and to even cloak his refusal on economic grounds (for fear of litigation for compensation).

At a national level the non-indigenes here need to come to grips with our past, with our attitudes toward indigenes, and to find ways in which society can be improved for all concerned.

In an iconic way the non-indigenes have sometimes shown good gestures in protests (such as at Howard on the sorry question). But in other symbolic ways non-indigenes have psychic barriers. Take our national coat of arms: the emu and kangaroo. Neither creature can go backwards. They appear on the coat of arms as symbols of the nation as always progressive and forward-moving.

Take the current national anthem: Advance Australia Fair for we are young and free. The aspirations summed up for the nation are we are perpetually youthful.

So when will the nation attain symbolic maturity? If we are always young and we are via the coat of arms always forward moving, then symbolically we cannot look in the rear view mirror at our past.

Moreover, the "young" symbolism puts us at odds with the indigenes whose culture(s) are the oldest continuing/surviving ones. The indigenes have antiquity to them and it carries with it all the notions of wisdom and maturity. So in a symbolic way the nation has two cultures: one young and forward moving; one ancient.

For national reconciliation to occur we need to also be willing to grow up as a nation. As 1788 or 1901 (or even 1915) are taken as defining marks each date reminds us of our immaturity. We are a culture of ball games not of academia and philosophers. We have no antiquity in our buildings (whereas walk in Strasbourg a city that is some 2,000 yrs old), and so little sense of the depths of the past behind us to consciously remind us.

So a great impediment remains when the genuinely antique/ancient peoples here sit on the margins of society. They see our speed, impatience, cultural acne as an adolescent nation. Even more embarrassingly we tag along like a young kid behind the bigger teenage culture of the USA (a further obstacle to growth and maturity).

The symbols of the coat of arms and the anthem are just symbols. However they are reference points to a deeper psychic problem, one we are uneasy about. We have to wrestle with our past and see the ugly side (along with the good things). But can we also go a further step beyond being ashamed of what has happened to the indigenes since 1788? Can we take a deeper and more adventurous step and be humble enough to learn from the indigenes (and not in some romanticised way of looking at the past either)?

At May 28, 2007 9:01 am, Blogger philjohnson said...


It was delightful to see that Howard was heckled yesterday by indigenous voices on the 40th anniversary of the referendum.

By the Way, it is encouraging and slightly amusing to know that there is a grass roots campaign underway by disgruntled youth who live inside Howard's seat of Bennelong. Their campaign revolves on the slogan it only needs 3,000 votes to kick Howard out the seat of Bennelong. Hopefully the slogan will gather momentum.


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