That it was a tremendously emotional and important day, both happy and painful, for so many was plain to see from the expressions on faces, particularly those of the 100 indigenous representatives and members of the Stolen Generations invited as special guests to the opening of the new Parliament and to witness the long wished-for apology. And who will soon forget the sight of all those rapt, attentive and finally joyful faces of the people gathered in front of screens at countless sites around the country: in schools, public places from Redfern to Bourke, and at my workplace in Sydney, where I watched the speeches and ceremony in the company of dozens of Aboriginal colleagues.
That it was a political victory and I would say, in the circumstances, a very big political victory, is undeniable. And political victories are important. When the Bringing Them Home report included in its recommendations, an apology, who would have thought that it would have taken more than 10 years for such a simple act to occur? That it has now finally taken place is because there was clear support among a majority of Australians for an apology to take place and because it was patently evident that while it would cost the new Labor government almost nothing to make it, it was unthinkable not to do so when it would mean so much to Aboriginal Australians and be an indispensable part of their healing.
Of course, the much more difficult and complex work now begins. Kevin Rudd’s inclusion of the Leader of the Opposition in his new bipartisan approach to addressing the social and economic needs of Aboriginal people was a master stroke and will help undercut any party political backlash from the significant minority of Australians who think quite enough has been done to help Aborigines and who disagreed with the apology. Many Aboriginal people I spoke with today were very upset and angry at the response in Parliament by the Opposition Leader, Brendan Nelson.
As johnQ on the ABC website blog said of his speech:
All Brendan Nelson had to say was that he endorsed Rudd's speech. Instead he long-windedly indulged in justification of harmful actions taken, a dismissal of
impacts, a dismissal of any responsibility, a dismissal of any opportunity to ever be compensated in any way, an attack on Aborigines and cheap political point-scoring on Howard's controversial interventions - effectively seeking to undo the apology. Could there have been a more disingenuous apology?
But I reminded each of these people whose anger I shared that in a day of meaningful symbols perhaps one of the the most beautiful and hopeful was the presentation of a gift to the Australian Parliament from an indigenous woman representing the Stolen Generations, a gift of a coolamon, the carrying vessels generally made by Aboriginal men from a hardwood such as mallee and traditionally used by the women to carry water, fruits, nuts, as well as to cradle babies.