Apology To The Stolen Generations Essay About Myself

In February 2008, the then prime minister Kevin Rudd addressed the national parliament and the Australian people to apologise to every person and Indigenous family devastated by the forced removal of children. We know them as the Stolen Generations. Delivered more than 10 years after the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report, it was, symbolically at least, the culmination of a milestone event in Australia’s national story.

The apology was cathartic and a seminal national moment, but it portrayed a fundamental misconception. It assumed, and the Australian people also assumed, that wholesale government sanctioned removal of Aboriginal children was our past and our future involved reconciling the consequences of this action and dealing with the harm it caused. We needed a roadmap and the prime minister’s roadmap was the Closing the Gap strategy.

But the separation of Aboriginal children from their families is not only our past.

The distressing truth is that, today, Indigenous children are being removed from their families at a rate that is far higher than at the time of the apology. In fact, state intervention into Aboriginal families has accelerated child removal in the 20 years since the Bringing Them Home report.

For South Australians, the experience of Aboriginal children in the child protection system has just been documented in the child protection systems royal commission. There, compared with non-Indigenous children, Aboriginal children are: 6.6 times more likely to be subject to a notification of abuse or neglect; 9.8 times more likely to be the subject of a finalised child protection investigation; 9.9 times more likely to be the subject of a substantial finding of abuse or neglect; and 9.2 times more likely to enter out-of-home care.

David Leyonhjelm parodies Kevin Rudd's apology to stolen generations

The alarming growth in the number of Aboriginal children being placed in out-of-home must be urgently addressed. The Closing the Gap strategy is failing to highlight this problem and without action Australia runs a very real risk of reaching child separation rates at Stolen Generations levels.

In May 1995, as the attorney general in the Keating government, I commissioned the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission to inquire into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

The inquiry recognised that while formal policies of assimilation had been ended, the experience of child removal continued.

At the time the inquiry’s report was handed down, statistics showed that Indigenous children were six times more likely to be removed for welfare reasons and that, in 1993, while Indigenous children comprised only 2.7% of Australian children, they were 20% of children in care.

It was noted that Indigenous children were more likely to be removed on the ground of “neglect” rather than “abuse” with substantiated cases of neglect constituting 40% of all cases for Indigenous children, compared with 23% for all children.

To address the continuing high levels of the separation of children from their families, the commission made a comprehensive suite of recommendations to empower Indigenous self-determination for the wellbeing of children. It was envisaged that negotiations would occur at community and regional level and result in customised models to meet local needs. The negotiations could have included the possible transfer of police, judicial and child welfare agency responsibility to local communities.

In conjunction with self-determination, the commission believed that national minimum standards for child welfare would “address the rights and needs of Indigenous children, prevent unjustified removals and provide an open framework in which Indigenous control over child welfare and juvenile justice can develop where this is desired”.

'You're not given any love': the stories of Australia's stolen generations – photo essay

The standards framework recommended key points, including: an initial presumption that the best interest of the child is to remain within their Indigenous family, community and culture; the involvement of Indigenous organisations in all decision-making concerning Indigenous children; the separate representation of Indigenous children in judicial decision-making processes; and that decisions to remove an Indigenous child from their family be made in accordance with the Indigenous child placement principle.

While commissioned by the Keating government, the Bringing Them Home report was presented to the Howard government in April 1997.

The then Aboriginal affairs minister John Herron delivered the commonwealth’s response in December 1997. The commonwealth government did not support national legislation to facilitate self-determination or to enshrine national standards for child welfare. Rather, the commonwealth announced a range of funding initiatives to support family reunions, which was described as the fundamental concern arising from family separation and its consequences.

In 2015, the National Sorry Day committee produced a score card on the implementation of the Bringing Them Home report recommendations. The committee gave a qualified pass mark to Australian governments on the incorporation of national standards for decisions on Indigenous child welfare but otherwise a fail mark to recommendations going to self-determination and the practical application of each of the national standards. It was recognised that the Indigenous child placement principle was adopted either in legislation or policy across Australian jurisdictions. However, the impact of the principle had been hampered by a lack of resources to legal services or other advocacy groups that endeavour to support Aboriginal families, particularly women, when children are the subject of welfare department activities.

Fears Western Australia will close remote Indigenous communities ‘by stealth’

Australia’s current roadmap to tackle Aboriginal disadvantage is the Closing the Gap strategy, which was announced as part of Rudd’s apology and has been adopted by all governments through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG). The six targets are to: close the gap in life expectancy; halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under five; ensure all Indigenous four-year-olds in remote communities have access to early childhood education; halve the gap for Indigenous students in reading, writing and numeracy; halve the gap for Indigenous students in year 12 attainment or equivalent attainment rates; and halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Each target has a timeframe varying from five years to “a generation”.

While the Closing the Gap strategy recognises the need for holistic responses to deep and difficult problems, the reality is that the gap is widening for Aboriginal children being removed from their families compared with other Australian children.

As of 30 June 2015, there were 43,000 Australian children living in out-of-home care as a result of the intervention of state welfare agencies. This represented 8.1 children per 1,000.

In the same period, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children comprised 15,000 of the 43,000 children removed from their families. This is 35% of all children placed in out-of-home care, yet Indigenous children are only 5.5% of all children aged 0-17. The removal rate for Indigenous children is 52.5 per 1,000.

Most disturbingly this disparity is rapidly rising. At the time of the apology, the rate of out-of-home care for Indigenous children was 24 per 1,000. It has risen each year since then to 52.5 per 1,000 in 2015.

At the time of the apology, Indigenous children were seven times more likely to be in out of home care. This figure is now 10 times more likely.

The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission found it difficult to quantify with precision the number of Aboriginal children taken from their families during the period of formal assimilation policies. Their estimate was between 10 and 30 % of all Indigenous children were taken. ABS surveys conducted in 1994 and 2002 provide support that the percentage of children taken was at least 10%.

This means that the current rate of removal is now more than half the rate of the assimilation period and is continuing to rise. If the pattern of the last decade was to continue, then by 2025 the rate of removal would again reach 10% of the entire population of Indigenous children.

A way forward

We are at a critical point in Aboriginal child welfare. Surely Australia cannot continue on a path that is trending towards child separation reaching the same proportion as those of the Stolen Generations.

What should be the response? Firstly, there must be prominent visibility as to what is happening and a target to reduce the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous child welfare interventions.

Stolen generations hail the power of 'collective healing'

The Closing the Gap targets should be amended to include an express target that the rate of out-of-home placement of Indigenous and non-Indigenous children be halved by 2025.

The benefit of making child separation rates a Closing the Gap target would be to give the issue prominence and would mean that the prime minister personally addresses progress in the annual Closing the Gap report to parliament.

A second response goes to the Indigenous child placement principle. The principle seeks to keep Aboriginal children with their extended families and, failing this, the local Indigenous community. A specific measure to assess reunification of children with their families within the national framework would highlight this critical objective.

Thirdly, it is important that Indigenous communities play a central role in supporting families and that local organisations are equipped to fulfil this task. The Bringing Them Home report expressed this in terms of self-determination, while sometimes government policy documents adopt the language of empowering communities to take responsibility. In many ways, both concepts are different sides of the same coin and reflect that solutions devised locally will generally be superior to those developed in national and state capitals.

The separation of Aboriginal children from their families during the assimilation period of public policy caused enormous harm to Australia’s Indigenous community

Successive federal governments have endeavoured to respond to the consequences of the policies but it is a fundamental misconception to believe child separation on a wholesale basis is an experience of the past.

The way forward begins with acknowledging that Australia has reached a critical point in Indigenous child welfare and the focus should be on this area – or the history of generational level separation rates might well be repeated.

This is an edited version of the Elliott Johnston Memorial Lecture entitled A New Stolen Generation? delivered at Flinders University on 6 October 2016.

White Australia's responsibility, like its shame, is monstrous.—The Sydney Morning Herald [34]

Kevin Rudd’s apology

Watch the main excerpt of Kevin Rudd’s speech in parliament on February 13th, 2008.

Apology Transcript ▿

The Speaker of the House (Hon Harry Jenkins MP): The Clerk.

The Clerk: Government business notice number 1, Motion offering an apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

The Speaker: Prime Minister.

Prime Minister (Hon Kevin Rudd MP): Mr Speaker, 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.


Kevin’s inside story of the apology

In an exclusive interview with the Koori Mail newspaper Kevin Rudd explained how he managed to get the apology through parliament [39].

“I thought ‘how would you get something like this through the Parliament, on a bipartisan basis, so that the [Opposition] owned it’ because, as history has proven, I wasn’t going to be around forever.”

“Given where [the Opposition] were at the time—and remember that a number of them didn’t come in the end—I had to abe very mindful of how much they would bear without turning their backs.

“You heard the remarks made on the day, which reflected all the internal tensions on the conservative side of politics and their attitude towards Indigenous people.

“But I was waiting for the one thing from the leader of the Opposition and that was ‘The Opposition supports this motion’.

“That’s all I was looking for [so] I grabbed [Federal Opposition leader Dr] Brendan [Nelson] by the hand and led him around the chamber to meet all of the Aboriginal Elders and all of those sort of folk.

“I picked up the coolamon from Stolen Generations member Aunty Elaine Peeters and, it wasn’t scripted, but I said to Brendan, ‘Oi, Sunshine, you’re coming with me and we’re presenting this together to the Speaker’. I deliberately hijacked him.”

Mr Rudd said he “played by instinct” all the way through the occasion and chose not to react to “all of the negative things” Dr Nelson said in his reply speech, but resisted.

“I did that because I wanted to entrench it in the heart and soul of the Parliament so that these things were not changeable, fundamentally, in the future,” Mr Rudd said.

Sorry Day in the print media

Below are the headlines of newspapers across Australia about Sorry Day, 13 February 2008. Most of them feature the famous word ‘Sorry’ in their headlines, a word many Aboriginal people came to Canberra to hear on that historic day.

Canberra Times (ACT) as many others showed a prominent ‘sorry’.

Courier Mail (Brisbane, QLD) printed an historic image of Aboriginal children on a truck with a white nurse.

Daily Telegraph (Sydney, NSW) showed Kevin Rudd with Aboriginal people who performed a Welcome to Country as parliament resumed operations.

Herald Sun (Melbourne, VIC) gave more prominence to a TV station’s legal struggle and, inside, to opponents of the apology.

Illawara Mercury (NSW) had the most memorable front page with an image of Aboriginal boys shown in an Aboriginal flag.

Mercury (Hobart, TAS) was text-heavy because it printed the text of the full apology.

MX (Sydney metro) showed a shot of crowds watching the apology being made on big outdoor screens.

Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW) elaborated more on what ‘sorry’ meant and showed Kevin Rudd with an Aboriginal woman.

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) also prominently placed ‘sorry’ along with an image of a ‘domestic slave’.

The Age (Melbourne, VIC) was the only newspaper not to mention ‘sorry’ in its main headline.

The Australian (national) featured Aboriginal singer and songwriter Archie Roach who was stolen from his parents.

The Koori Mail, a national Aboriginal-owned newspaper, focussed on the thoughts of members of the Stolen Generations.

Poll results

I reproduce some ‘sorry’ apology poll results in this section. When you read or use these statistics be careful how you interpret them and remember:

Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.—Aaron Levenstein, associate professor of business administration, Baruch College, New York

Pre-apology polls (1997)

The following set of three polls is cited wildly throughout ‘sorry’ apology articles, but few mention the second question of the Morgan poll which reveals an interesting result.

Should the government
say ‘sorry’?asked in 1997

AGB McNair (2,065 votes)


Newspoll (1,200 votes)


Morgan (522 votes)


Source: http://www.news.com.au

[What is your opinion on] whether or not there should be a federal government apology?522 votes

Apologise even if it makes it easier to claim compensation
Apologise only if it does not make it easier to claim compensation
Not apologise because it is enough [sic] individual politicians to apologise
Not apologise because the policy was legal and well meaning at the time

Morgan poll as above; source: http://www.apo.org.au

The 1997 apology polls were conducted before the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in government and show mixed results.

One reason might be because they had varying numbers of respondents. The McNair poll had almost four times as many people voting as the Morgan poll. In polling, as with every work based on statistics, you need a certain number of answers to reach a statistically representative amount of data.

The other problem lies in the question of the polls which varied greatly between polls.

The McNair poll informed readers about the HREOC submission and asked if “all Australian parliaments acknowledge the responsibility” for “the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their families”.

The Newspoll asked simply whether the government should apologise to the Aboriginal people because of “the events revealed.”

The Morgan poll explained at length that the then Prime Minster John Howard had decided against giving an apology and that the government was not responsible “for errors, wrongs and misdeeds of earlier generations”.

Interestingly, the Morgan poll had a second question immediately after this one, asking “whether or not there should be a federal government apology”, not mentioning the Prime Minster at all and providing four instead of just two possible answers.

In that question the results are turned upside down. 50% agree that an apology should be made while 47% disagree. This is a good example how a different question can, in the same poll, skew the responses.

How much will an apology to the Stolen Generations help towards achieving Aboriginal
reconciliation?6,735 votes

Very much
Not very much
Not at all

Source: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au, October 2007

The The Australian poll is interesting as it also offers four questions for respondents to scale their opinion. The large number of votes helps achieve a statistically significant cross-section.

The poll shows again that the Australian nation was still divided in half. 48% thought that an apology helped very much or moderately while 52% thought the apology did not help very much or not at all.

These results are roughly consistent with the other polls we’ve discussed so far.

Post-apology polls (2008)

After Kevin Rudd had made his historic ‘sorry’ apology many Australians shifted their opinion and voted differently in polls.

Rate Kevin Rudd’s
apology34,967 votes

Don’t agree with it

Source: smh.com.au, February 2008

How do you rate Kevin Rudd’s
‘sorry’?721 votes

Don’t agree with it

Source: canberratimes.com.au, February 2008

The Sydney Morning Herald poll is the most significant of these two because the sheer amount of votes makes it almost representative.

78% of the respondents thought that Kevin Rudd’s ‘sorry’ apology was excellent or good. Only 6% disapproved of the apology while 16% disagreed with it.

The Canberra Times poll with well below 1,000 votes is far less significant but confirms a strong shift towards support of the apology.

The fairly high percentage of disagreeing respondents might be due to the paper’s ‘left wing thinking’ readership who are possibly more in favour of the Liberal party which, for 11 years, opposed an apology to Australia’s Stolen Generations.

Responses to the apology

I encourage you to make up your own mind about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s ‘sorry’ apology. The following quotes give you food for thought. I have separated them into Indigenous and non-Indigenous so you can easily find trends and common thoughts.

Aboriginal responses

I feel great. I'm on top of the world, I'm floating on air. It's a big weight off my shoulders… It's the closure I need.—Archie Roach, 52, Aboriginal singer and songwriter and member of the Stolen Generations [1]

The apology will help to heal the scars but it will never heal my pain and hurt.—Mary Farrell-Hooker, 50, member of the Stolen Generations [3]

I fully welcome the apology to the Stolen Generation as a lot of people will now know what took place.—Alec Kruger, 83, member of the Stolen Generations [3]

I'm really encouraged and buoyed by the chance that has been taken here to really open the door to the process of healing.—Dr Alex Brown, Aboriginal doctor [8]

The word 'sorry' doesn't come near what [my father] went through. They can apologise in a thousand different ways without saying sorry. Actions speak louder than words.—Norman Stewart, son of a Stolen Generations member [10]

To me, our Prime Minister's apology is saying to my granny and the thousands like her, their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, that we understand your pain and we acknowledge this long-ignored chapter in our history.—Che Cockatoo-Collins, head of the Indigenous Sports Academy, Port Adelaide [11]

I am inspired by this apology as an act of true reconciliation towards Indigenous Australia.—Mick Dodson, co-chairman of Reconciliation Australia [12]

Kevin Rudd's eloquent and culturally sensitive words undoubtedly facilitated the lifting of the heavy emotional load from the frail shoulders of those beautiful, resilient Stolen Generations victims.—Stephen Hagan, Aboriginal academic [43]


Sorry for the lies you told For the children you stole Hearts that don't bleed Hearts so cold. Came to this land With guns in hand An ancient culture You wish to disband. Taken our rights By days and by nights Killing our people And not hearing our plights. Now it's the future And someone has spoken Time to move on And to heal the broken.

Poem by Kamilaroi man Neville James Draper [41] who was born on 13 February. Read more Aboriginal poetry.

It is a very emotional time and I'm so pleased that he has said sorry.—Muriel Bablett, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Care Agency [12]

Sorry may just be a word, but it should help the history of our past come back into our curriculum for the current generation to learn… An apology will mean a monumental weight has been lifted from people's shoulders.—Sudye Jackson, retired Aboriginal footballer [14]

[It's] an apology not just for me, but for my mother and for my father and for my children who carry the burden and carry the weight of what happened to us stolen kids.—Archie Roach, Aboriginal singer and song-writer [15]

The wording of Mr Rudd's apology goes a long, long way to end the distrust of the white man by generations of my people.—Lloyd McDermott, member of the NSW Bar Association [17]

No matter what our colour or our creed, at heart, from this day forward, we are all fundamentally Australian.—Noel Tovey, Aboriginal dancer and member of the Stolen Generations [18]

Australians of goodwill will be hoping that the apology on this day will be a real beginning for the brown-skin baby's spiritual journey home.—Kirstie Parker, editor, Koori Mail [20]

In my heart I feel there is a real need for [the apology]... For my family, it allows some kind of healing and forgiveness to take place where there is less anger and bitterness in the hearts of people.—Cathy Freeman, Aboriginal athlete [21]

An apology will mean that people believe us, that this has happened and that we are not liars.—Cahill McCarthy, Stolen Generation member [22]

See, [the apology] was like a great weight dropped away and we can go on in a positive aspect together and get out of the kindergarten stage we've been in for too flamin' long.—Kev Carmody, Aboriginal singer and songwriter [27]

For the first time in my sister's life she wept in front of the TV while she was watching Kevin say sorry. All these years she and I had held the pain.—Aunty Rhonda Collard, Aboriginal artist [32]

Blackfellas will get the words, the whitefellas will keep the money.—Noel Pearson, Aboriginal elder [27]

Nobody else in the country wanted to touch the apology but Kevin Rudd, when he was Prime Minister, decided to step up and to lead by example. It wasn't just a brave thing, it was the right thing.—Archie Roach, Aboriginal singer and songwriter [38]

It was never about guilt. It's history. The truth is the truth.—Neil Barney, Melbourne [44]

It's been absolute closure. I was taken when I was 10… This apology was something I really needed to hear.—Murray Harrison, Ballarat [44]

There has always been this hole in my heart with regards to being Australian. And today the speech by the Prime Minister was just so spot-on that it filled that little hole.—Warren Mundine, Aboriginal leader and the former National President of the Australian Labor Party [44]

I can remember feeling a wave of emotion that completely engulfed me, because he had cut to the core about the truth of our nation.—Helen Moran, Aboriginal co-chair, National Sorry Day Committee [44]

It's not doing anything for me, it wont' give back my years.—Rhonda Maynard, East Davenport, Tasmania [44]

Australia Day 2008. The ‘Sorry’ writing was commissioned by a private person. As if he had already known what Prime Minster Kevin Rudd would say three weeks later. Photo: Michael Davies, Flickr

Non-Indigenous responses

The overwhelming majority of non-Indigenous Australians received the apology to the Stolen Generations positively. A minority did not agree with the apology or even denied that the Stolen Generations exist.

When Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the words 'I am sorry' a wave of emotion and a process of healing began across the nation.—Brett Solomon, executive director of community advocacy organisation GetUp [28]

The whole sorry thing is really to satisfy the white population, not the black population. Until whites give back to black their nationhood, they can never claim their own, no matter how many flags they fly.—John Pilger, expat Australian journalist [19]

The PM's apology expresses my concern, empathy and desire that this will begin some psychological and spiritual healing.—Joanne Gardiner, General Practitioner [6]

I was very encouraged to hear on the news about the apology [Mr Rudd] made in parliament to all Aborigines for laws and policies that 'inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss' upon them.—Dalai Lama [2]

If someone can prove to me that there were stolen generations, I could change my mind… The children in most cases were given up by parents or guardians who were unable to look after them.—Barbara Witte [9]

Now I realise that [the apology] is not about black people or white people, it's really about families.—Man talking to Gary Highland (National Director,

It was a mistake for us not to apologise to Aboriginal people.—Tony Abbott, opposition spokesperson on Indigenous Affairs, about the Howard government [36]

Now I believe that the colour bar which I intuitively feel still operates and works against us, will start to fade away.—Deborah Ruiz Wall (of Filipino-Australian descent), Newtown, Sydney [42]

We have stopped telling ourselves the comfortable lie.—Clover Moore, Lord Mayor, Sydney [44]

Kevin Rudd’s apology and Australian schools

Poster showing the word ‘sorry’ translated into a range of Aboriginal languages. The poster is part of a set created to mark the historic national apology by the NT-based Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education. It offers the posters for sale. Source: batchelorpress.com

In NSW, government schools were told to fly the Aboriginal flag and stop lessons during the apology so that students could watch the apology live on television. Many parents were upset about this.

Should students stop classes to watch Kevin Rudd’s apology on TV?1,771 votes


Source: The Daily Telegraph, 13 February 2008

A majority of over 70% agreed that students should not swap classes with the apology.

The parent’s reaction reminds us of parents in 1883 which also threatened to withdraw their children from school if 15 Aboriginal students would not leave. In those times the Aboriginal children were ordered out of school.

Let the brainwashing begin… This is school, not a politburo meeting. The Education Department and teachers are there to teach children how to think, not what to think. I consider pulling any child of mine out of school for the day.—Damien Holland, newspaper reader [4]

This is a disgrace. There are plenty of people out there who do not agree with the apology, who have kids going to public schools… Mr Rudd does not speak for me, my children or my ancestors.—Nicky, newspaper reader [4]

If my kids' school does this, they're staying home! I'm disgusted!—Tony, newspaper reader [5]

It's not enough that students simply know of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's sorry to these 'generations' of 'stolen' children no one can actually find. To children we actually saved.—Andrew Bolt, editor Herald Sun [7]

Schoolchildren will be watching history, and I wish I was still at school to witness such an occasion with fellow new-generation Australians.—Peter Ellis, newspaper reader [4]

Get that nigger band off.—School teacher responding to an Aboriginal student wearing a coloured wrist band [24]

The white people’s concerns are starkly opposed by the response of a young Aboriginal boy who, until the apology, was a “quiet, almost sullen, boy who kept to himself” because Aboriginal people were often criticised for no reason [24].

Watching the apology on television transformed the boy. He is now proud of his Nyoongar heritage, started to learn to play the didgeridoo and lead the music on the day of the school celebrations.

Apologies made in other countries

New Zealand

New Zealand apologised in 1995 to a Maori tribe for stealing 500,000 hectares of land 130 years earlier. That apology became law [13].


Canada apologised On 11 June 2008, to its Indigenous peoples for its past actions that eroded “the political, economic and social systems of Aboriginal people and nations”. The government acted on a report which had been tabled two years earlier.

From the 19th century until the 1970s—dates very similar to Australia’s own history—more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were required to attend state-funded schools in an attempt to assimilate them into Canadian society [40] and the purpose of “killing the indian in the child” [33]. They were forbidden from speaking their native languages or participating in cultural practices.

There were an estimated 130 Residential Schools across Canada. An estimated 90,000 survivors fight to have their stories recorded.

The last Residential School closed in 1996.

In May 2006 the Canadian government reached a CDN$1.9-billion settlement to compensate survivors.

We Were Children (directed by Tim Wolochatiuk, 2011, 83 min) chronicles the profound impact of the Canadian government’s residential school system through the eyes of two children who were forced to face hardships beyond their years. As young children, Lyna and Glen were taken from their homes and placed in church-run boarding schools, where they suffered years of physical, sexual and emotional abuse, the effects of which persist in their adult lives.


President Tsai Ing-wen formally apologised to Taiwan’s indigenous people on 1 August 2016 for centuries of suffering and unfair treatment, becoming the island’s first-ever leader to do so. [45]

Tsai, Taiwan’s only leader with aboriginal blood, said she’ll personally head a committee to investigate past injustices as part of government efforts to ease tensions with the native community.

Taiwan’s indigenous community comprises 16 recognised tribes that make up about 2% of Taiwan’s 23.5 million people.

I apologise to the indigenous people on behalf of the Government, to give our deepest apology over the suffering and injustice you endured over the past 400 years.—Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen [45]

Apology resources

Documentary The Apology

Reconciliation Australia has released a special documentary “to remind and refresh Australians about how it feels to heal and to see things can be better between us.”

The documentary, titled The Apology, is narrated by Jack Thompson with music from Powderfinger, Silverchair, Missy Higgins, John Butler and the Stiff Gins. It features behind-the-scenes footage from the two days leading up to the apology, and the event itself. The Apology runs for 30 minutes.

You can order a free copy at www.reconciliation.org.au/.

More resources at AIATSIS

The Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) has a long list of resources about the apology along with videos and links to news articles.

“Stand Together”

Australian songwriter Paul Bonner Jones wrote Stand Together.


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