It's been absolutely inspiring this morning to watch the TV coverage of our Prime Minister delivering an apology to the Stolen Generations and indeed the Indigenous people as a whole, and to witness their joyful acceptance of it. Good on you, Kevin Rudd!
Although the Opposition Leader saw fit to express the opinion that some of what was done may have had good intentions, and this was badly received by many, including me, as an inappropriate quibble on this great occasion – still, he began his own speech by saying sorry, and pledged bipartisan support to the Government for the actions that must now be taken to move on and start righting the wrongs. At last! It was as if the nation let out its collective breath. Even here in our living room, we were relieved, tearful, elated and celebratory.
It should all have happened long ago. Indeed the things that made it necessary should never have happened in the first place! But the past cannot be undone. It can only be acknowledged honestly, as the Prime Minister did in his frank and eloquent speech. Now we can take hands and move on together, 'as one' – as many said.
I particularly liked what the Prime Minister said about according real respect to the members of the ancient cultures who have so long inhabited this land. That would be something! They've been treated like s**t for the last two centuries, and that's putting it mildly.
I liked what Tom Colma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said: 'It's not about guilt. It never was. It's about belonging.'
And there was a nice touch from an Indigenous woman in the crowd outside Parliament House. Back in 2000 when our previous Prime Minister officially refused to make this apology, the members of Midnight Oil, playing at the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics, wore black T-shirts emblazoned in white with the one word, SORRY. Today, I saw a black T-shirt emblazoned in white with the one word, THANKS.
This seems a good moment to revisit a poem I wrote that year:
Walk With This Spirit
(A meeting of the Kingscliff-Cudgen Reconciliation Circle)
No wonder it's called Rosella Tomato Sauce —
they're that red, lined up on the wide rail.
But their yellow-green wings can't be compared
to any tree or grass, or even the ferns
crowding up and over the high verandah.
They are unique, and have their own colour.
Bright. Bold. In your face
like the big Reconciliation badge I wear:
red, green and yellow, black and white.
"Walking Together" it says. And we sit together,
a circle of Australians, indigenous and non.
We sit together talking, even after the last light
strikes the opposite hill in a sudden blaze.
We're dreaming up a monument,
a reminder of who came first —
something to touch, like the rock or tree
that has always been the place
to speak to ancestral spirits.
We dream it could heal all hearts.
We invent phrases, like, "Walk with this spirit."
Somebody mentions earth.
Grey beard, gentle eyes, brown face,
a man of measured words.
"What do you mean exactly when you say earth?"
I ask, flushed and earnest, wanting to get it right.
"Australia? This bit of land? Or the whole planet?"
For the first time, he stammers.
"All that. The earth supports us.
She is our Mother!" His eyes fill with tears.
We fall silent. On the rail, the Rosellas jostle.
The forested valley begins to grow dark.
We sit together, sipping coffee, watching
one green patch of shared, beloved earth.
© Rosemary Nissen-Wade 2000
In Secret Leopard: Selected Poems 1974-2005. Paris, Alyscamps, 2005.