National Sorry Day

Congress hosted its first National Sorry Day event on the 26th of May. Over 100 people attended the Congress Sorry Day event that also marked the 20th anniversary of the Bringing Them Home Report.

Congress chairman and first generation member, William Tilmouth, addressed the event recalling the apology to Aboriginal people made by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. The apology was “a first step”. Aboriginal people are still waiting for the second step, said Mr Tilmouth which is to have a say in the control of their own affairs.

William referred to the recent Frist Nations Constitutional Convention at Uluru where much the same message was being heard, calling for “the establishment of a First Nations Voice enshrined in the Constitution”. He also decried the advent of a new Stolen Generation with steeply rising rates of removal of Aboriginal children from their families. The current hearings by the Northern Territory Royal Commission, focusing on the child protection system, may reveal a clearer picture of this situation, but the stories told at the Congress link Up Service National Sorry Day Event were stark reminders of the ruthless system of the past.

Ms Pat Ansell-Dodd shared that ten people from her family were removed across the decades. Her father was put in a home at the back of Stuart Arms before being put to work on a cattle station.  Her mother was caught near Ryan’s Well tied to a tree by a policeman when her father was out mustering. Her grandmother was grabbed and they were both brought into town to the Telegraph Station. Their family tried to get them back without success.  Pat’s mother’s sisters were put in a Catholic Church mission; two ended up on Melville Island and were not allowed to stay in touch with their family. Her uncles were also taken. An aunty was taken to The Bungalow, then taken to St Mary’s before ending up in New South Wales: she never really came home, she didn’t know she was or that she’d been taken there by government, she thought her family didn’t want her. Then when she was a young woman she had her daughter taken from her.

Margaret Furber was taken from grandparents at the Gap Cottages, she was eight years old. Her grandmother came home from work and found she was gone. Margaret’s brother (Harold) and sister were taken to Croker Island. While on Croker Island, her brother and sister were separated. The sister ended up adopted in Queensland. Much later, the siblings found out that another sister had been taken straight from the hospital, and adopted by a white family down south. She wasn’t told anything about her background until her adoptive mother was dying. Some belated comfort for the Furber siblings came with a “fantastic” family reunion and smoking ceremony a few years back, assisted by Link-Up.

The gathering also heard from the granddaughter of Frank Byrne, Delphina who read a passage from her grandfather’s autobiographical “living in hope’. She read “He was living happily with his mother and stepfather on Christmas Creek Station in the Kimberley when he was taken at the age of six. What happened is harrowing. No explanation, no preparation: this little boy was held back physically as he saw his parents loaded up onto a truck and driven away’.  Mr Byrne goes on to tell us that he was then turned out into a paddock “just like a poddy calf” and left to fend for himself. “I think I went mad,”. The only help he received came from other removed children like him and, thankfully, a few Aboriginal families camped there who did their best to take care of them.    

The school choir of the local Sadadeen Primary School provided entertainment at the event. The event was concluded with a cleansing smoking ceremony from the local Arrernte Healing group, Akeyulerre.