Wednesday, 25 May 2011


“The ability of a person to atone has always been the most remarkable of human features.” - Leon Uris

Today is National Sorry Day, which is an Australia-wide anniversary held on May 26th every year since 1998. The day gives people the opportunity to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations of indigenous children, their families and communities. Stolen Generations refer to Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities in order to assimilate them into white society.

The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998, which was one year after the tabling of a report about the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their blood families and communities. The report, known as “Bringing Them Home”, at last acknowledged that Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and communities since the early days of European occupation in Australia. Governments and missionaries were responsible for this forced separation, which created miserable conditions and psychological problems for whole generations.

Various “assimilation” and “protection” policies were implemented by the late 19th century. However, the most systematic and widespread forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families occurred during the 1950s and 1960s in the name of assimilation. These children are now known as the “Stolen Generations”. They were brought up in institutions or fostered to non-Indigenous families. This removal was official government policy in Australia until 1969.

In the 1980s welfare and community groups spoke out against such government and social welfare practices that were clearly discriminatory against Indigenous people. This forced a reappraisal of removal and placement practice during the 1980s. In 1980 the family tracing and reunion agency Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation was established. Similar services now exist throughout Australia.

Kevin Rudd, Australia’s Prime Minister at the time, tabled a motion in Parliament on February 13, 2008, apologising to Australia’s Indigenous people, particularly the Stolen Generations and their families and communities, for the laws and policies that inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss. This formal parliamentary apology included a proposal for a policy commission to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in matters such as life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity. This event was regarded by many as a step forward in reconciliation.

On Sorry Day, one is more likely to see the Aboriginal flag and the Torres Strait Islander flags flying. The Aboriginal flag is horizontally divided into two equal halves of black and red with a yellow circle in the centre. The black symbolises Australia’s Aboriginal people and the yellow circle represents the sun. The red represents the earth and people’s relationship with the land. It also represents ochre, which is used in Aboriginal ceremonies in Australia. Harold Joseph Thomas designed the flag, which was first flown at Victoria Square in Adelaide on July 12, 1971.

The Torres Strait Islander flag stands for Torres Strait Islanders’ unity and identity. It features three horizontal stripes, with green at the top and bottom of the flag and blue in between, divided by thin black lines. A white dharri (a type of headdress) sits in the centre, with a five-point star underneath it. The color green represents the land. The dharri symbolises all Torres Strait Islanders. The black represents the people and the blue represents the sea. The five-point star symbolizes the island groups. The star is white, which symbolises peace in this case. Bernard Namok designed the flag.

The Stolen Generations represent one of the most reprehensible and callous policies that have ever been realized in Australia’s history. Formally apologising for this and trying to redeem for the mistakes of the past is the least that we as Australians can do to try and redress some of the wrongs that were committed. Sorry Day is a symbol of the reconciling nature and the all-inclusiveness of our present-day Australian society.


  1. Hello Nicholas V:
    To comment on the politics of another country is, on occasion, to find oneself in very deep water.

    However, one cannot but deplore wholeheartedly the appalling policies which went before and which led to the so named Stolen Generations. As you say, Sorry Day goes some small way to make amends.

  2. That is a shameful story and a dark blot in Australia's history. I remember seeing a film called "Rabbit Proof Fence" and it dealt with this sad topic.
    At least having a formal apology and a sorry day seems to be doing something to redress the old wrongs.

  3. I have also see the film "Rabbit Proof Fence" and the history behind it is very sad. Good to see some amends are being made...