Wednesday, February 13th 2008, is a day we will always hold strongly in our minds. We will remember where we were, who was with us and how we felt as we heard the Prime Minister of Australia say Sorry to the Indigenous Peoples of our Nation.
A Sorry that was meant to show the sincerity that the awful policies set in place by past governments had destroyed the lives, families, society and culture of many Indigenous Peoples in this country.
During the days leading up to the event we listened, read and participated in the discussions. We prayed that there would be bipartisan support for the Sorry and that the Indigenous Peoples would accept the apology. We sat up late at night, preparing for the event by watching on our televisions the Opening of Parliament and the Welcome to Country. We observed the pride on the faces of the Indigenous People and the respect on the faces of our politicians. A sense that a new era was evolving in our country was felt and deep in our souls we knew a turning point had occurred. Aware of our two hour difference behind Canberra time, many of us rose early on Wednesday the 13th and walked around our convents with our radios, ready and alert to hear the Sorry. We knew this was a momentous, historical occasion. Many of our WA Sisters had spent years in the Kimberley walking side by side with Indigenous Peoples. We knew the pain of the people. Our understanding of historical events and the harsh policies of the past caused us to take great interest in the happenings of Wednesday 13th. We wanted with every fiber of our being that this statement be right. We sat in silence listening to the heartfelt words of Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd. The tyranny of distance did not limit us. We felt so present in the midst of the Canberra crowd, crying with the people who had suffered and proud that a Prime Minister could say and mean Sorry. We were there in mind and spirit at a spiritual event which had the power to inspire and move us forward with a sense of hope that a new day had dawned in Australia.
At 9 am we gathered in our South Perth Chapel which was decorated with various Kimberley symbols. Srs Maree Riddler and Margaret Keane prepared a Mass of Thanksgiving, which created for us a touching ritual taking us into the spirit of the day. We used the words of our Prime Minister as part of our penitential rite and the words of Sr Katrina Brill as one of our readings and at the end of Mass, we sang the grand Litany to Blessed Mary MacKillop. We knew we needed her help to journey on and make the Sorry a reality. We wanted the hospitable heart of God and the compassionate heart of Mary MacKillop, to beat in our hearts so we would shape this new Australia together.
After a cup of tea and a sharing of feelings, some of us dashed around the City of Perth, looking for the celebrations. We wanted to share in the joy of Indigenous peoples. We headed for the Swan River, Parliament House and Kings Park but we were too late, the people had dispersed. Back in the office, the faxes, emails and phone calls came in from our sisters in response to our morning fax. Each sister was rejoicing, each sister was touched by the event and each was saying in different ways This is a great country and today we made it even greater. Thanks be to God.
(photos: Sr Marie Moriarty rsj)