Sorry seems to have been the healing word
By Jamie Brown firstname.lastname@example.org IF one spoken word can change the course of humanity, Widjabul elder John Roberts has heard it with his own ears.
“Prime Minister Rudd stopped the whole country when he said ‘sorry’ in his speech Wednesday,” the former chair of the Far North Coast Regional Aboriginal Land Council said.
“Everybody thought he was bloody brilliant. I was in Lismore having lunch with my son and you could feel the mood. White people were coming up to black people and saying g’day. There was this feeling of reaching out,” he said.
“I’ve been involved with reconciliation for years and I’ve always said it will never happen until the push comes from the very top. What Rudd did was brilliant.”
But John also knows that Australia’s now historic Sorry Day will only make a difference if people move forward.
“Sorry Day was all about offering respect towards the first people in this country,” he said.
“When former Prime Minister John Howard said he was not responsible for his forefathers he forgot that his generation and future generations are reaping the benefits of Aboriginal land.
“To move forward now is to work with good people from both races. We need to walk past the bad people and focus on the good.
“The first thing white people can do to black people is to step outside their square and say, ‘Hi! How are you?’.
“We have to be tolerant towards each other. If you don’t have tolerance, what’s the point of Rudd’s speech?”
Goonellabah Koori Jade Ellingwood, 28, said he felt deeply the impact of Sorry Day, being the oldest child of a woman who was stolen from her family at the age of three.
“To say ‘sorry’ is only one word, but it was really important for her,” Jade said. “I can understand why she went all the way to Canberra to hear it from the Prime Minister. It’s not going to make everything better, but at least there is some closure inside my mother and others of her generation.
“If my mother is feeling hurt and pain, then I feel it too. She’s happy as a result of that apology and that makes me happy.
“Heaps of white people say, ‘why should we say sorry, it wasn’t our generation that stole those children’. But attitudes like that make the younger Koori generation angry. They muck up.
“Everything reflects down the generations. If parents are angry then the kids are angry. If parents are hurt and they drink to block out that hurt then their pain is passed down to the next generation.
“I really reckon Sorry Day will change things for the better. It is one big step in a positive way.
“Things won’t change overnight but this is a start and that’s all we can hope for.”
Wardell Koori Stephanie Ferguson yesterday proudly displayed her hand-made Sorry Day T-shirt.
“This was a long time coming,” she said.