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sorry seems to be the hardest word.


Calliope
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After years of marches and protests and a change of government, Australia has (finally) apologised to its aboriginal citizens for the horror of the Stolen Generations. If you've seen Rabbit Proof Fence, you get the idea of what the expression means. Basically, aided by a series of laws that pretended to be for the benefit of the children concerned, over almost a century aboriginal children were systemically removed from their parents. There is no doubting that it was a deliberate act of cultural genecide. It was hoped that the 'blackness' would be bred out of them.

 

If anyone should want to read more, the Bringing them Home report is available online. The section about the children's experiences, spelling out how total their separation was to be, is particularly heart-rending.

 

PM Kevin Rudd might have looked embarrassingly smarmy but it's about time this was acknowledged. Of course, there are other areas of debate that continue, such as should reparations be made? And, should the British government apologise too?

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I think these apologies are rather meaningless.

 

I can be sorry for lots of things. I'm sorry it rained when I hung out the washing. I'm sorry my great-grandfather was a blackleg. I'm sorry I walked away from my aunt before she died. I'm sorry I stole a bar of chocolate. I'm sorry I got caught.

 

But for an apology to be meaningful, it must express regret and repentance. It must be made by an individual who was culpable for the sorry episode. And it must be made to the person who has been wronged. I don't think a nation can be sorry any more than a nation can be happy or tired or unwell. A Prime Minister of a nation has no locus to apologise for his predecessors any more than someone in years to come has a locus to apologise for my conduct today. Neither should I have to compensate the ancestors of those who were wronged by my ancestors.

 

I do think, though, that we should acknowledge past wrongs. We should learn from them; we should look for ways to avoid making the same mistakes as our ancestors. And we should all work towards creating a fairer society today, rather than trying to turn clocks back.

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Yes, I think the acknowledgement that wrong was done is important, and probably very much part of what the protests and marches were about. One person can't apologise for the wrongs of a previous generation, but there needs to be a record there that says 'yes, it was wrong'. I think that can be very powerful and hopefully ensure that it never happens again.

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I think this issue was an important part of Kevin Rudd's election promise and one that helped get him elected, and I thought it was a well thought out speech that meant a lot to Australians.

 

I like the idea of a dignified but purely symbolic apology. I don't know the politics of the issue but I think that should now be the end of it. As a pakeha immigrant to New Zealand, I regularly get my ear bashed when I go to Gisborne and the East Cape about the sins of my forefathers and I can't help thinking of the pointlessness of that way of thinking. What do they want me to do? What do they want the Australian government to do?

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