As indigenous and community leaders, Redfern locals and the media gathered to hear the historic speech, the faces of those Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders present – a few of whom were themselves members of the Stolen Generation – sat pensively in quiet expectation.
The sound of rain falling on ponchos and umbrellas was punctuated only by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s voice, until the speech delivered three times a word many thought they would never hear from an Australian Government.
“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,” he said.
Cheers and rapturous applause followed and those previously reserved faces now bore huge grins or needlessly wiped tears from faces already wet from the rain.
Following a speech from the Federal Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson, a clearly emotional Sydney Lord Mayor, Clover Moore addressed the gathering, her voice faltering several times during the address.
“Today, we have reached a turning point in the Australian story.
“For the first time as a nation, we have formally acknowledged the wrongs that were done – to the Gadigal people and to the other indigenous nations, the wrongs that were done to their children and children’s children.
“For the first time as a nation, we have had the courage to acknowledge our past. We have stopped telling ourselves the comfortable lie. We have acknowledged the privilege that we have in living in this remarkable country.
“And in the words of Lowitja O’Donoghue, we have begun to ask ourselves: "What was the cost of this privilege? And who paid the price?"
Ms Moore recognised the work of social justice advocate and parish priest of St Vincent’s Church in Redfern, the late Father Ted Kenney as well as CEO of the Aboriginal Medical Service (AMS), Dr Naomi Mayers.
[The AMS] see the answer to O’Donoghue’s question every day she said as they care for the sick, the wounded, and those who die too young from alcohol or drugs”.
“In our hearts, we know the cost, whether it’s in child-abuse and petrol sniffing in remote communities, or drugs and alcoholism and fractured families here on the streets of Redfern.
“Parliament House in Canberra is a long way from the streets of Redfern. But the apology that has been made there this morning must resonate here, and not just in our hearts and minds.”
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