Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Apologies: national, institutional, personal

Three apologies to the Indigenous people of Australia.

The first comes from the Parliament of Australia. It will be delivered tomorrow morning in Canberra; and Paul and I will ride our bikes into Federation Square in the morning to stand, to be two bodies among the thousands standing in support of this small gesture, this symbolic attempt to begin reparation.

Here is the official text:

I move:

That today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, indigenous and non-indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.


The second was circulated by my Vice-Chancellor this evening, and I am proud to cite it here:

STATEMENT OF APOLOGY

To the Indigenous people of Australia

From the University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne, established on the traditional land of the Kulin nation, is a community that aspires to participate in the creation of a diverse and harmonious nation. Our aim is to bring greater benefits to the Indigenous people of Australia through education and research, and to do so by involving Indigenous people in those endeavours. On behalf of the University of Melbourne, I acknowledge,

* The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the original inhabitants of the continent;

* Recognise their loss of land, children, health and kin, and the erosion of their languages, culture and lore and the manifold impacts of colonisation; and

* Australia will only become a mature nation when the past is acknowledged, so that the present can be understood and the future confidently based on the mutual recognition of aspirations and rights.

The University records its deep regrets for the injustices suffered by the Indigenous people of Australia as a result of European settlement.

On behalf of the University of Melbourne, I join with other Australians, led by the Prime Minister of Australia, the Hon. Kevin Rudd, to say a heartfelt 'sorry' to the Stolen Generations and their families and to all Indigenous Australians who have suffered the hurt and harm caused by the forced removal of children and families and its effect on the human dignity and spirit of Indigenous Australians.

The University also acknowledges and sincerely regrets any past wrongs carried out in the name of the University which have caused distress to Indigenous Australians.

The University is committed to using the expertise and resources of its teaching and learning, research and knowledge transfer activities to make a sustained contribution to lifting the health, education and living standards of Indigenous Australians. As an
institution we aim to produce the highest quality outcomes in all aspects of our academic endeavour - from the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to building our cohort of Indigenous academic and professional staff.

To this end we hope to contribute to realising Indigenous aspirations and safe-guarding the ancient and rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

The University joins with all Australians who see in Parliament's recognition and apology a decisive moment in our nation's progress. In justice is the hope of reconciliation, in acknowledging the past the hope of the future.

Glyn Davis
Vice-Chancellor.


The third, my own, is harder to post, since I must find the words myself, instead of relying on these polished and developed statements.

But I am sorry. I am sorry that my own life and my own happiness have been built, however indirectly, on a society that has enacted policies with such cruel effect on families and societies that have such ancient claims on this mysterious land we must now work so hard to understand. I am sorry that my own ancestors and leaders thought it right to take Indigenous children from their families. I can only imagine the ongoing pain and sorrow of a family broken up in this way, and the sorrow and anger of people suffering ethnic violence of this kind. In my daily walks along the Merri Creek, I try to understand something of the spirit of place, of seasonal change, of the creatures who live in its waters, its trees and its grasses; and perhaps glimpses of the people who used to live and fish there. And in some of my work, I try to comprehend different ways of understanding the past, trying to learn something of what we have lost, what we forget, and what we must try to remember. I join with others who see this day of apology - this day of saying sorry - to the custodians of this land, as a small beginning in a much longer process of reconciliation.

1 comment:

Dame Eleanor Hull said...

Both our countries are built on other people's (and on other peoples) in a way that suddenly makes the European Middle Ages seem much more foreign to me even than they usually do. Perhaps you and I are more like the Romans than like our subjects of study.