Wounds raw 10 years on

February 14, 2018

Shepparton High School student Sara Hitchcock reads at Shepparton's Apology Breakfast, marking the 10th anniversary of Kevin Rudd's national apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Exactly 10 years on from Kevin Rudd’s national apology to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, their wounds are clearly still raw.

This was evident at yesterday’s Shepparton Apology Breakfast in the Queen’s Gardens, where emotions ran high.

A huge crowd of guests gathered under the shade to commemorate the anniversary of then prime minister Rudd’s apology.

The speech came at a time when indigenous people had previously been denied the symbolic gesture by former federal governments.

Addressing parliament on February 13, 2008, Mr Rudd’s emotional apology was a momentous point in Australian history.

‘‘I move: that today we honour the indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history,’’ began Mr Rudd’s apology.

‘‘We reflect on their past mistreatment. We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations — this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

‘‘The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.’’

Guest speaker Renai Dean, who attended the apology event 10 years ago, was visibly upset when she spoke to the audience at yesterday’s Shepparton breakfast.

She, along with Shepparton Region Reconciliation Group co-chairman Uncle Bobby Nicholls and co-convenor Deirdre Robertson, highlighted that although the apology was important, there was still much work to be done and there was only so much words could do.

There are many indigenous people, nationally and locally, who feel as though many more changes need to take place.

Many at the breakfast reflected on the Closing the Gap strategy that was established shortly after the apology and aimed to reduce disadvantage among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The areas of focus were life expectancy, child mortality, access to early childhood education, educational achievement, and employment outcomes.

While a recent review revealed there had been some great progress made when it comes to access to early childhood education, educational achievement and the improvement of child mortality rates, four of the seven targets set out are still not on track.

Uncle Bobby was clearly disappointed the targets were not closer to being met and said he hoped he would be around in another decade’s time to see what progress had been made.

Although these changes take time and it was acknowledged that ‘‘closing the gap’’ would be a slow process, the apology breakfast was shrouded in disappointment that there had not been a bigger change since Mr Rudd gave his speech.

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