What Is National Sorry Day About?

An important part of healing

National Sorry Day is an Australia-wide observance held on May 26 each year. This day gives people the chance to come together and share the steps towards healing for the Stolen Generations, their families and communities. Stolen generations refer to Indigenous Australians who were forcibly removed from their families and communities.

The first National Sorry Day was held on May 26, 1998, which was one year after the tabling of a report about the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families. The report, known as Bringing Them Home, acknowledged that Indigenous children were forcibly separated from their families and communities since the early days of European occupation in Australia. Governments and missionaries were responsible for this forced separation.

Systematic removal practices were implemented through various assimilation and “protection” policies by the late 19th century. Many Indigenous children were forcibly taken away from their families in the name of assimilation during the 1950s and 1960s. These children are known as the “Stolen Generations”. They were brought up in institutions or fostered to non-Indigenous families. This removal was official government policy in Australia until 1969.

By the 1980s, by welfare and community groups spoke out that governments’ social welfare practices were discriminatory against Indigenous people. This forced a reappraisal of removal and placement practice during the 1980s. In 1980 the family tracing and reunion agency Link-Up (NSW) Aboriginal Corporation was established. Similar services now exist throughout Australia.

Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd tabled a motion in parliament on February 13, 2008, apologizing to Australia’s Indigenous people, particularly the Stolen Generations and their families and communities, for the laws and policies that inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss. The apology included a proposal for a policy commission to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians in matters such as life expectancy, educational achievement, and economic opportunity. This event is seen by many as a step forward in reconciliation.

What Can You Do

A growing number of National Sorry Day activities and events take place throughout Australia on National Sorry Day. You can join in in many ways that are already organised or by organising your own event such as

  • Hold concerts and aboriginal performance and ceremony
  • Hold a barbecue, morning teas or lunch. Maybe try some kangaroo on the barbie.
  • Join a Reconciliation walk or street march.
  • Attend a Sorry Day flag raising events.
  • Attend or organise a speech from community leaders an Indigenous Australian elders or an aboriginal educator such as Koomurri
  • Check out the media statements from politicians within federal, state and local governments and start a conversation.
  • Write messages and sign the various “sorry books” as a way of showing your commitment towards reconciliation. Contact your local areas Aboriginal Land Council to find out where these might be or ask if you could help start one.
  • Pledge your support towards fulfilling the recommendations from the ‘Bringing Them Home report’. Thousands of Australians have already shown their support by writing messages and signing “sorry books” since 1998.

Many school children take part in National Sorry Day activities, which include essay competitions, lighting candles for Indigenous Australians who were taken away from their families and communities, and inviting local Indigenous Australian elders to speak with students. Films that focus on the Stolen Generations may also be shown to students for discussion.

Your school, business or organisation can book a vast variety of aboriginal performance, welcome, smoking ceremony or art workshop though Koomurri.

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Keep up the momentum for change: the theme for National Reconciliation Week 2023 is Be a Voice for Generations.

The theme  encourages all Australians to be a voice for reconciliation in tangible ways in our everyday lives – where we livework and socialise.

For the work of generations past, and the benefit of generations future, act today for a more just, equitable and reconciled country for all.

National Reconciliation Week – 27 May to 3 June – is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how each of us can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.

Find out more about National Reconciliation Week  #NRW2023


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