“Sorry seems to be the hardest word,” crooned the popular boy-band Blue along with legendary singer Sir Elton John. However, the five-letter word appeared not so hard to utter when Australian Prime Minister, Mr. Kevin Rudd, proffered a historic and much-awaited apology to the native aborigines on Wednesday. The apology was rendered for all the hurt and humiliation that had been heaped on the original inhabitants of the country-continent over two and more centuries, ever since white settlers first arrived in the late 18th century.
Mr. Rudd, the Labour Party PM, stated that the apology had been delivered “to remove a great stain from the nation’s soul.” He said, “We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and two governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these, our fellow Australians.”
Aborigines had been subject to intense deprivation and suffering in the past, and Australia has been widely condemned for many reprehensible violations of human rights. This included forcibly removing aboriginal children from their parents and putting them into foster care under white citizens, to enable them to assimilate with the “modern” culture. This barbaric practice caused mental agony to thousands of parents who had to unwillingly hand over their children to the State.
The public apology is being construed by many people as a reconciliatory gesture that can bridge the enormous chasm between the natives and the so-called present-day modern citizens. Aborigines all over the country wept and sobbed as Mr. Rudd apologised to the members of the “Stolen Generation”. Aboriginal leaders were invited to the Parliament on this historic occasion. Many of them were present, dressed in colourful robes, elaborate headgear and decorative face paint. Ms. Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, winner of the Wimbledon titles in 1971 and 1980, described her feelings. She said, “After all this time it’s finally happened and I’m here to support all those mothers who went through so much pain at having their children taken away.”
Many called it “Australia Day” as both the national and aboriginal flags flew proudly over restaurants, offices, shops, theatres, gardens, and schools, including the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge. Others called it a day of “open hearts”, as the goodwill gesture came a day before Valentine’s Day.
The Australian government swallowed its pride and ego and whole-heartedly apologised for the injustices it committed, knowingly or unknowingly. The world, and indeed the political space, can learn a lesson or two from this episode. A simple word sometimes can be sufficient to bring people together – those seperated through time and distance. The PM apologised for something that commenced way back in 1788, when the first British settlers arrived in Sydney Cove. International leaders can try to see events of the past with clear heads now. The common public does not expect apologies to fly around from everywhere, for every single travesty of justice. But to bridge the gap among people divided on lines of colour, creed or ethnicity, or people labouring under the natural predatory instincts of colonisers, an apology can try and make up for all the years lost in transit. Hopefully, Australia’s natives will not get a raw deal in housing, banking, education, representation, from now on. Maybe, someday this will enable them to walk tall again, with the regal air of the people they are. The occasion has almost united and brought together Australia as one. Maybe it can also give distressed people around the world a chance to hope and pray for an end to their hardships.
[image by Tilly Dog]
Text of the comments of Mr. Kevin Rudd and Ms. Evonne Goolagong-Cawley borrowed from The Hindu.