Tuesday 13 February marked the 10th anniversary of the National Apology to Australia’s First Peoples. A momentous day in history, this felt for many like a start towards National Reconciliation. But a decade on, we’ve made only marginal outward progress. Many of the challenges recognised in the apology are still affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and descendants of the stolen generations.
Rodney Dillon, a Palawa Elder and Indigenous rights advisor at Amnesty International Australia, says he has more hope for today’s Australia to make these changes. But it will require a movement.
“Not much has changed for the stolen generation yet, but Australia is becoming more truthful about its history.”
For the children, grandchildren, and wider communities of those one-in-three who were stolen, the intergenerational trauma has been ongoing and severe. Attempts to “wipe out” Aboriginal culture and the use of the stolen generation members as low or unpaid labourers has left families severed and lands stripped away.
“The issues we’re fighting today, like the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in detention, are a byproduct of that. Troubles the communities are facing with poverty, mental health, housing, education – there is so much shame around it. But we have no reason to feel ashamed.”
It’s important that the nation has started to admit to these issues, especially in the past decade. Paul Keating’s iconic “Redfern” speech in 1993 “may have been too early”, Rodney says. “The country wasn’t ready yet.” But after the release of the Bringing Them Home report in 1997, momentum was gained to make things better.
Rodney was one of the 250,000 people who walked across the Corroboree Bridge in Sydney in 2000 in support of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, but the walk was just the beginning.
Year after year, Aboriginal and Torres Strait people and activists called for the report to be publicly recognised by then-Prime Minister John Howard, who adamantly defended his decision not to for the 11 years he was in power.
With the opening of a parliament in 2008, new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made it his first order of business. “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,” he said in the famous speech.
But were we ready to embrace change, or are we still on the way?
Rodney says we have gathered the momentum to make a difference. He says anyone can help, just:
“Have empathy for the plight of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Show that the cause is strong and that you’re doing everything you can to stop this kind of atrocity from happening again.”