Sorry Business



3 February 2008
In the first motion of the newly elected Parliament the Prime Minister of Australia has said SORRY.
Sorry to what had happened to all Aboriginals.
Sorry in particular to those tens of thousands who were as children forcibly removed from their families never to be returned.

The reaction and reflection to the Australian Government’s SORRY in the article written by Max and Alemka “Sorry Business: Winds of Change in Australia”  published in The Knowing Field, International Constellation Journal, issue 12, June 2008, 

“…it is not only about the apology to the stolen generation….It is not only about apologising either. Apology asks for forgiveness which can’t be asked for and can’t be given. We hope that this Sorry is about acknowledging the Sorrow, that it is about grieving for all those “blackfellas” who were removed, displaced, killed and also for those “whitefellas” who did the removing, the displacement and the killing. This Sorry is to be taken in the meaning this word has for most Aboriginals who refer to a grieving process as “Sorry Business”. It is obvious that this business is what reconciles us with each other, with our own past and takes us forward as a nation.”  (from the article)


Just like that sigh of relief heard with the occurrence of a major shift at a special moment during a constellation, a deep breathing out was almost audible throughout the whole nation when the Prime Minister spoke the word SORRY.


The build-up that lead to this historic occasion in the Parliament of Australia on the 13th of February had been going on, for many, an agonisingly long time.


It was only in 1967, just over 40 years ago, that the indigenous population of Australia, the Aborigines, were recognised as human beings by the government of the day. Yet, the practice of taking children away from their aboriginal parents to educate them ‘the white man’s way’ continued into the early 70ies.


Early last century in wide and influential circles of the European population of Australia it had become the accepted view that the Aborigines are a ‘doomed’ race, unfit to survive the competition with the white settlers; any aboriginality in those of mixed race would be ‘bred out’ within a few generations, if contained. Since early last century there were an estimated fifty thousand children, most of them with mixed blood lineages, forcibly removed from their mothers to be put in orphanages or given to white families. Very few of them found that ‘Rabbit-proof Fence’ to lead them back to their roots.


The struggles of people from this ‘Stolen Generation’, which in the last decade became the most visible part of the plight of the Aboriginal people in general, only highlighted myriad of other issues, in particular, the appalling gap between the living standards of indigenous Australians and the rest of the nation: -the life expectancy of Indigenous people is 20 years less; -the child mortality rate among indigenous people is 2.5 times higher; -only 38% of indigenous children complete schooling; -indigenous people constitute 20% of Australia’s prison population despite comprising only 2% of the total population and are 16 times more likely to die in custody; -indigenous juveniles constitute 42% of all juveniles in detention.


Recognising these facts, in 1992 the then Prime minister Paul Keating tread new ground with the speech he gave at the opening ceremony for the International Year of Indigenous People: “..the starting point might be to recognise that the problem starts with us non-Aboriginal Australians. It begins, I think, with the act of recognition. Recognition that it was we who did the dispossessing. We took the traditional lands and smashed the traditional way of life. We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. We took the children from their mothers. We practised discrimination and exclusion.”


Subsequently he commissioned an inquiry about the fate of these Aborigines that culminated in the report ‘Bringing them Home’. The report gives numerous heart wrenching accounts of misery experienced by those uprooted and makes a recommendation that the Australian government offers an official apology to those affected. By the time the commission handed in the report, Australia had a new government, which adamantly refused to issue an apology and continued doing so for almost eleven years of its reign. In doing so, it ignored the widespread and relentless efforts of many Australians who marched at Sorry Day marches, signed ‘Sorry books’ and worked tirelessly to keep reconciliation on the national agenda.


The newly elected government under Kevin Rudd kept the promise made during the election campaign and went even a step further. For the first time in history, the traditional Westminster opening of Parliament was preceded by the ancient Aboriginal ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony. The sights and sounds of traditionally clad and painted Aboriginals performing their ancient way of welcoming visitors to this ancient land with dance, chants and didgeridoo has changed the face of Australian parliament forever. Even the leader of the opposition pledged to enshrine the ritual in perpetuity. An Aboriginal Elder commented later: “Now we are meeting at eye-level, now you are our welcome guests”.


The hush of expectancy throughout the nation mounted as Kevin Rudd stood up in Parliament for the first time as a Prime Minister to speak:

 “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.

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.

There comes a time in the history of nations when their peoples must become fully reconciled to their past if they are to go forward with confidence to embrace their future.

Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.

This is why the parliament is today here assembled; to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul and, in true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.”


As Rudd continued on with the 361-word apology, indigenous and non-indigenous people wept in the public gallery and on the lawns outside the Parliament house in Canberra. Indigenous men and women gave a long standing ovation after Rudd’s speech. At city squares and parks across Australia, in schools and in many homes where thousands of people watched the direct broadcast of the speech, people cheered, applauded, hugged and cried after the apology was delivered.


For many, especially for those forcibly taken from their families, listening to the words of the apology was like the sound of a long awaited rain on the parched desert soil. This is how one Indigenous Australian, a Yorta Yorta man describes the day after the apology:


“Today I woke up….Today was the first day. The first day I woke up knowing that my country accepts me for who I am……Today is the first day of the next chapter in the story and path of my people and my country. I want to be a part of that journey, to help lead us all to a better place, to build a better future for my children. And it all began this morning. Today I woke up.”


As “new Australians”, we both always felt some uneasiness about being allowed to settle in this country by a government which itself has never been welcomed by the original inhabitants. The words spoken by the Prime Minister, the acceptance of those words by the indigenous Australians, and the tears of the SORRY DAY made us feel much more at home. A good day to call oneself Australian!


From the way the PM’s speech touched the soul of many of us, and touched the very soul of the Australian nation, it is clear to us that, although important, it is not only about the apology to the stolen generation. It is about the acknowledgment of all the past injustices inflicted in the process of white colonization. It is not only about apologizing either. Apology asks for forgiveness which can’t be asked for and it can’t be given. We hope that the spirit of this SORRY is about acknowledging the SORROW, that it is about grieving for all those “blackfellas” who were removed, displaced, killed AND also for those “whitefellas” who did the removing, the displacement and the killing. This SORRY is to be taken in the meaning this word has for most Aboriginals who refer to a grieving process as “SORRY BUSINESS”. It is obvious that this “business” is what reconciles us with each other, with our own past and takes us forward as a nation.


“Reconciliation is only possible when we weep for the fate of the victims with profound empathy. In this way we take them into our souls. In doing so we also take the lost souls of the perpetrators into our soul. Peace is when we can say to each other: “I am the same as you.” Only then can the past be past. Only then can there be peace.”
(Bert Hellinger)

written by Alemka and Max Dauskardt

Melbourne, Australia, March 2008

Below are some of the highlights of the speech:

There is something terribly primal about these firsthand accounts. The pain is searing; it screams from the pages. The hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental humanity.

These stories cry out to be heard; they cry out for an apology.

As has been said of settler societies elsewhere, we are the bearers of many blessings from our ancestors; therefore we must also be the bearer of their burdens as well.

Therefore, for our nation, the course of action is clear: that is, to deal now with what has become one of the darkest chapters in Australia’s history.

In doing so, we are doing more than contending with the facts, the evidence and the often rancorous public debate.

In doing so, we are also wrestling with our own soul.

This is not, as some would argue, a black-armband view of history; it is just the truth: the cold, confronting, uncomfortable truth – facing it, dealing with it, moving on from it.

Until we fully confront that truth, there will always be a shadow hanging over us and our future as a fully united and fully reconciled people.

It is time to reconcile. It is time to recognise the injustices of the past. It is time to say sorry. It is time to move forward together.

To the stolen generations, I say the following: as Prime Minister of Australia,
I am sorry.

On behalf of the government of Australia,
I am sorry.

On behalf of the parliament of Australia,
I am sorry.

I know that, in offering this apology on behalf of the government and the parliament, there is nothing I can say today that can take away the pain you have suffered personally.

Whatever words I speak today, I cannot undo that. Words alone are not that powerful; grief is a very personal thing.

I ask those non-indigenous Australians listening today who may not fully understand why what we are doing is so important to imagine for a moment that this had happened to you. I say to honourable members here present: imagine if this had happened to us. Imagine the crippling effect. Imagine how hard it would be to forgive.

Mr Speaker, today the parliament has come together to right a great wrong. We have come together to deal with the past so that we might fully embrace the future. We have had sufficient audacity of faith to advance a pathway to that future, with arms extended rather than with fists still clenched.

So let us seize the day. Let it not become a moment of mere sentimental reflection. Let us take it with both hands and allow this day, this day of national reconciliation, to become one of those rare moments in which we might just be able to transform the way in which the nation thinks about itself, whereby the injustice administered to the stolen generations in the name of these, our parliaments, causes all of us to reappraise, at the deepest level of our beliefs, the real possibility of reconciliation writ large: reconciliation across all indigenous Australia; reconciliation across the entire history of the often bloody encounter between those who emerged from the Dreamtime a thousand generations ago and those who, like me, came across the seas only yesterday; reconciliation which opens up whole new possibilities for the future.

It is for the nation to bring the first two centuries of our settled history to a close, as we begin a new chapter. We embrace with pride, admiration and awe these great and ancient cultures we are truly blessed to have among us cultures that provide a unique, uninterrupted human thread linking our Australian continent to the most ancient prehistory of our planet.


 Liyarn Ngarn  

Liyarn Ngarn means Spiritual Bonding and Coming Together in Spirit in the Yawuru language of the West Kimberly. It could also be translated as Reconciliation.

Lyarn Ngarn is a song written by Archie Roach, an Aboriginal singer-songwriter, which sounds like an anthem for reconciliation writen by someone who belongs to the Stolen Generation himself. It is also a title of the documentary that Roach made with the British actor Pete Postlethwaite and Aboriginal leader Patrick Dodson about the Aboriginal youth who died as a result of a racist attack in Perth 1992. 

Liyarn  Ngarn                        

Where the forest meets the plain
Where the desert meets the rain
Where the river meets the sea
You and me, you and me

Liyarn Ngarn
Oh, we’ve got to make a start
Cause we’ve been too far apart
Liyarn Ngarn, Liyarn Ngarn
Mend all these broken hearts

Life is sour, life is sweet
And our stories seldom meet
But I believe the time has come
To be one, to be one

Liyarn Ngarn
Oh, we’ve got to make a start
Cause we’ve been too far apart
Liyarn Ngarn, Liyarn Ngarn
Mend all these broken hearts

We are all born of different skin
but it doesn’t matter
If we can begin to celebrate life
and all that it means
And we must not be afraid
to live our dreams
Come together everyone
where the moon meets the sun.


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