A National Apology - Wednesday 13 February 2008
In February 2008 Roving reporter Thuong attended the public broadcast of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations at Federation Square.
At 9am on Wednesday 13 February 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians who were removed from their families and communities as children.
Thousands of people gathered at Federation Square in Melbourne to witness the historic event on the big screen.
An emotional event
The live broadcast was introduced by Victorian Acting Premier Rob Hulls, who said getting to today's apology had taken "too long - far too long."
Reconciliation Victoria CEO Frank Hytten said that "this very welcome step is the first of the many required steps towards justice and healing for Indigenous Australians, and towards the enrichment of non-Indigenous Australians in understanding our own past."
Sitting down near a group of school students with their eyes focused intently on the screen, I glanced around and saw that among the crowd were children, parents, businesspeople and the elderly.
The crowd cheered and wept simultaneously as Mr Rudd delivered the apology. "To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry."
A long wait
The apology has come more than a decade after the release of the Bringing Them Home report. The report documented the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children taken from their families, their communities and their country by governments between 1910 and the early 1970s.
Mr Rudd related the story of Nanna Nungala Fejo who was taken at the age of four from her family's bush camp and thrown into a world of pain, suffering and loss familiar to tens of thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.
"They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman on horseback cracking his stockwhip. The kids were found; they ran for their mothers, screaming, but they could not get away. They were herded and piled onto the back of the truck. Tears flowing, her mum tried clinging to the sides of the truck as her children were taken away to the Bungalow in Alice, all in the name of protection."
I listened to the apology, watched the reactions of the crowd and began to really think of the children, of the mothers and the fathers, and the injustice of so many decades having passed without their pain and mistreatment being acknowledged.
A strong sense of sadness, anger and pride washed over me.
Sadness as I stood behind a woman who wiped her flowing tears as she embraced her companion for support.
Anger at Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson's comments in which he described Indigenous Australians as "living lives of existential aimlessness" and the "'seemingly intractable and disgraceful circumstances in which many... find themselves today".
But when Mr Rudd spoke passionately and eloquently of "a future that embraces all Australians", I felt proud. I felt proud to be Australian.
When he completed his speech, we all rose to our feet for a standing ovation. Some were waving indigenous flags while others held signs that read "Sorry."
The broadcast was followed by a free concert at midday featuring Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Shane Howard and Dan Sultan.
Emotions were running high as Aboriginal singer-songwriter Archie Roach dedicated his performance to the mother he was separated from and to his own children.
A sense of unity
Mr Rudd's words stayed with me as I made my way around the square and talked to young aboriginal women, Melburnians and Vietnamese students who had not been in Australia for more than a week.
"We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future... A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia."
Towards the end of the concert, I bumped into two Aboriginal dancers who were posing for a photo with a Crocodile Dundee lookalike father and his son. I smiled.
Like the saying that was printed on a man's t-shirt, I thought, "THIS ISN'T ABOUT INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIA AND WHITE AUSTRALIA – THIS IS ABOUT ALL AUSTRALIA."
Watch the apology
You can watch Mr Rudd's national apology, or read a transcript, on the Australian Government's website (new window). For more information about reconciliation and how you can get involved, check out www.reconciliationvic.org.au (new window).
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