On 13th February 2008, Prime Minister Rudd made the long overdue Apology to the Aboriginal Stolen Generations of our nation.
We can all recall the moving images from the Parliamentary Gallery in Canberra and the many hundreds outside – people of so many varying ages who were personally affected. It’s said that Kevin Rudd looks back now on this gesture as a major achievement of his time in office.
Later that year Kareena Aspinall, who moved to SA from WA in her adult years, described to me the impact on herself and her husband and her analysis of the implications of the Apology. Kareena tells the story of that day in her memoir that we, in collaboration with our dedicated printer, Mary Pullen, later published.
You can feel her excitement – and relief…
“Well I voted for Labor in the last election in the hope they were going to apologise. And when Kevin Rudd said he was going to apologise, the rest of the Aboriginal people and me – when Labor got in, it was like – ‘Oh, it’s going to happen, they’re going to say it…’
“And when I heard that a speech was going to be made to the Stolen Generations, to me and Michael it was just like the day before Christmas for us. That night I was like a little child waiting for Santa Claus to come and open the presents. I felt like a big child that has been told, ‘Nothing that has happened in your life has been your fault. What’s happened in your life isn’t your destiny – it’s been delivered by someone else. ”
And, yes, I felt like a human being. Never been before because if you’re Aboriginal, you’re just treated with contempt. Race – you have to deal with racism every day of your life. You know – you’re just told you’re scum.
And then when I was a little child, one time we went from Mogumber to Perth – all us children had to go to Perth. And we went to go to a motel. All the white staff went in first; it was all ok. And then they saw all the Aboriginal children coming in, and said, ‘ No, sorry, we have no room. ”
So all those sort of things sticks with you. Sticks with you. And that Stolen Generation, it’s ok when it was kept in Australia, but the whole world knows now what Aboriginal people have had to go through with that Stolen Generation. And it’s just letting the truth come out and its revelations. ”
So on the Day we got up straight away. We turned the telly on straight away, had our cuppa, breakfast and everything. And we just sat there with our eyes glued to the television listening to this man’s speech. And my heart was just full with joy and my spirit was free. Because he was telling us, ‘Your life is worth something, you’re not worth nothing.’ That’s what it was saying.
“I got a surprise when he kept going – and I didn’t want him to stop! Yes!! ”
And you just become a human again.
Because in Perth, you know you’re aware of it. You’d be walking along the street and you’d be getting shouted at – ‘Oh you black “thing!” Get off the street!’And all of that – it’s horrible!
“And when the Prime Minister said that to the Stolen Generations in words, now we’re equal – and now it’s up to people to be practical about it.
Make us equal. Because we think of ourselves as equal – but when you get put down and down all the time…”
‘And now it’s up to people to be practical about it.’
So a decade on, we arrive at the unfinished business of the Apology.
Personal responses are up to all of us of course. And while individual States at various times have made some reparation to individuals that have survived, federally it’s a different story. The NGO Reconciliation SA notes, that during her time as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar AO has called for a national reparations scheme for Survivors of the Stolen Generations.
As Mary MacKillop might instruct Mr Rudd and all following Prime Ministers,
Michele Madigan rsj with Kareena Aspinall
Visit the Australian Human Rights Commission new interactive website for educational resources
to help teachers and students around the country learn about the Stolen Generations.
Readers can buy a copy of Kareena’s moving 40 page memoir post free