13 February 2008

Sorry day

A few years ago, a family friend of ours, a quarter-caste Aborigine, lent me her copy of the Bringing them home report. What sad, shameful reading that made. Even worse were the letters and reports that belonged to her mother. My friend is one of the Stolen Generation. I read her mother's letters with disbelief. There were letters to Mr Neville, the Chief Protector of WA, asking for permission to buy new shoes, letters asking for permission to go to the dentist to get a toothache fixed, letters asking for permission to marry (refused because her fiance was darker-skinned than she was).

Like many Australians of my generation, I had learnt nothing of massacres and stolen children. We had read about white settlement, not white invasion. When I read my friend's papers, I was shocked. By then I was aware of reserves and, to a lesser extent, invasion, but I was unaware of the level of control forced upon these people. And, on reading this, I was ashamed.

I am not a terribly political person. I am not one who is off fighting for causes. I live a quiet life. But this has touched me. And the more I have learnt -- of what assimilation really meant, of what really happened -- the more appalled I have become.

So, today, Kevin Rudd's speech deeply moved me. I am sorry too for the past injustices, and for the continuing ones. I would like to see far greater government spending on bringing education and health services up to par in remote communities. I would like to see the inequalities addressed.

I am sorry children were still being taken in my lifetime -- an atrocity I find unfathomable. I am sorry it has taken so long for us to heal the rift. I am sorry there are still people around who cannot see the need to say the word. I am sorry they cannot feel it.

I am sorry we cannot still all acknowledge what went on, and that there are people who deny the existence of a Stolen Generation, who don't care that their comments divide already divided communities. I am sorry the hurt continues, that nothing we can ever do can really erase the pain. I am sorry that we hide behind the excuse that they were only doing it to save the children, to give them a better life. If that were true, why did they only take the light-skinned children? Why? No-one has ever been able to give me a reasonable answer to that question. I don't expect I'll find anyone who really can explain it, not so it convinces me.

There is much to be sorry for, and I am sorry for it all.


Lorraine said...

Beautifully said and from the heart, Tracey. An eye-opener.

Anonymous said...

A beautifully written piece, Tracey.
I would like to add my own - I am sorry.
Some years ago, beginning with the bicentenary, I began my own journey into Aboriginal understanding - a path in poetry.I was amazed at how ignorant I was and how many lies we had been told. The more I spoke with people, the more guilty and ashamed I felt. Then one Koori friend said to me 'Guilt is no help to anyone. We have to be positive and move on.'
Paul Keating admitted our guilt and Kevin Rudd has said sorry. Now we all need to move into the next part of the process of healing and repair the damage.