IN LIVING MEMORY: Elva Dickfoss, of Grafton, came to Lismore on Saturday for the 40th Anniversary Referendum Commemoration. Pic
IN LIVING MEMORY: Elva Dickfoss, of Grafton, came to Lismore on Saturday for the 40th Anniversary Referendum Commemoration. Pic

Northern Rivers embraces Sorry Day


A WALKING sea of black and white at Saturday's National Sorry Day march in Lismore left Elva Dickfoss with a smile on her face.

The 75-year-old Aboriginal woman said she was 'very impressed with the mix'.

Ms Dickfoss, of Grafton, was one of more than 600 people who joined in the walk from Spinks Park, through the CBD to Heritage Park, in recognition of Sorry Day and the 40th anniversary of the 1967 referendum to recognise Aboriginal people as citizens.

Activities at Heritage Park included singing, stories and games.

"Young people these days are a lot more aware of their rights and of politics," Ms Dickfoss said.

"I was in my 30s when the 1967 referendum happened, and I remember a lot of people, especially the young ones, weren't aware of what it really meant for us.

"When it came through I realised what restrictions had been placed on us.

"We had to pay taxes and go to work like everyone else, but we hadn't been properly recognised."

The 1967 referendum asked Australians to vote on two amendments to the Constitution.

The first question was an attempt to alter the balance of numbers in Federal Parliament, and was rejected.

The second proposed to amend two sections of the Australian Constitution that discriminated against Aboriginal people. An overwhelming 90.77 per cent voted yes.

The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998, a year after the tabling of the Bringing Them Home report. The report was the result of an inquiry into the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families.

One of the recommendations of the report was that a National Sorry Day be declared to offer the wider community an opportunity to acknowledge the impact of the policies of forcible removal on Australia's indigenous people.

Laurie Mercy, chairperson of the Ngulingah Aboriginal Local Land Council, remembered being five years old at the time of the 1967 referendum, and what a lifeline it was. "Everyone was talking about it at the time and rejoicing," he said.

"It made me realise that for the first five years of my life I was not classed as a citizen in my own country." National Sorry Day events were held around the region on Saturday, including a service in Ballina at the Catholic Church. The theme was Walk Your Talk and included a Welcome to Country, smoke and water ceremonies, prayer readings and a 'sorry' pole.

In Byron Bay, a Sorry Day ceremony was held at the Byron Bay Community and Cultural Centre.

The event included Aboriginal dancing, music and guest speakers.

The special guest speaker was 'Aunty' Pauline Gordon. The program finished with a dinner of kangaroo stew.

Dr Sue Page, medical education director for the Northern Rivers University Department of Rural Health, said the referendum pointed Australians in the right direction.

She said the anniversary provided a good opportunity to consider how we could work together to ensure all Australians received the best our nation had to offer.

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