I recently wrote a piece for Sorry Day, some of which was not correct. Sorry Day does not commemorate the Apology.
The Apology was delivered on 13 February 2008, by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. Sorry Day first began on the 26 May 1998, ten years before the Apology was delivered, and one year to the day after the Bringing Them Home report was tabled. I apologise for getting this wrong, and if this was misleading.
However what I wrote about the Apology holds true. Aboriginal children are still being removed from their families and communities, and at increasing rates. The Apology means little when the actions do not change.
Sorry Day is a time to remember the suffering, the grief, and the heartbreak suffered by those affected by policies of removal. It is a time when I reflect on, with great sadness, the suffering, grief and heartbreak experienced by my Grandfather, an Arrernte man taken from his family, and the suffering, grief and heartbreak that this bestowed on family and community. The Apology did so very little to lessen this pain. The Apology is, in my mind, bound up with Sorry Day, but I should not conflate the two, and I apologise for doing so.
I hope that this apology, my apology to you, serves as a timely reminder that ‘sorry means you don’t do it again’. I have learned from my mistake and have taken steps to correct it.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer
National Sorry Day, on 26 May, commemorates the 2008 Apology given by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The Apology was addressed to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who had been affected by the policies of forced removals, resulting in what we now know as the Stolen Generations. This was a momentous act that acknowledged the pain, suffering, and trauma of those who had been taken, and of those families and communities that had children removed from them. I remember exactly where I was when the Apology was given.
However, the Apology was not all it was cracked up to be. It focused on the consequences of policies of removal, without considering how the state was able to implement these policies lawfully in the first place. The power of the state was never examined, the very power that made these policies of removal possible, and so this power still exists, and we see this play out today.
Since the Apology, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be removed from their families and communities at disproportionate rates. Despite comprising only 6% of the child population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are roughly 37% of all children in out-of-home-care. In 2021, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 11 times more likely to be removed. What does Sorry mean if the actions do not change?
We cannot change this without the help of the rest of Australia. This Reconciliation Week, I encourage you to learn about these continued policies of removal. I encourage you to start the conversation with those around you, and to keep that conversation going. I encourage you to get up, stand up and show up in every way you can.
After all, sorry means you don’t do it again.
Lindsay McCabe (palawa),
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Officer.
- Read about Grandmothers Against Removals: ‘The women fighting against a rising tide of Indigenous child removals‘
- Watch After the Apology on SBS on Demand.