Rudd speech helps bridge the divide
By Alex Easton
THE way Auntie Irene Harrington sees it, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd built a bridge between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians yesterday.
The challenge now is for the nation’s citizens to cross it.
“We have to walk over it and start working together, but I know there’s a lot of people who’ll baulk at that bridge,” Auntie Irene said after Mr Rudd’s historic apology to the stolen generations at Parliament House.
“It may be years ... but they will walk over it.”
The Widjabul elder was among more than 200 people at Southern Cross University’s Whitebrook Theatre to watch Mr Rudd deliver an unqualified and stirring apology to the stolen generations for the more than 70 years of government policy that allowed officials to steal Aboriginal children from their parents and their communities.
Auntie Irene was never taken from her own parents at the government reserve she lived on as a young child, but she saw others taken from their families.
She was too young to understand what was going on, but said she grew up wondering why other children were taken away.
Auntie Irene was one of the lucky ones in her generation, starting at North Lismore Public School in 1945, not long after a policy banning Aboriginal children from the school was dropped.
She left school when she was about 14 and didn’t finish her High School Certificate until she was in her 50s. Auntie Irene worked hard to educate herself and is now one of the academics with Southern Cross University’s College of Indigenous Australian Peoples.
She said Mr Rudd’s apology, backed by Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson and accompanied by a pledge from both men to work together to end indigenous disadvantage, was heartening.
“It was good to see two prominent people like them walk around together,” Auntie Irene said. “I’ve never seen that before.
“I thought the Prime Minister’s speech was excellent; I started to cry with what he was saying and with the feelings coming over me.”