National Sorry Day

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Yesterday was National Sorry Day here in Australia,

The Bringing them home report (BTH Report) recommended (Recommendation No 7.a) that a National Sorry Day be held each year on 26 May “to commemorate the history of forcible removals and its effects.” As a result of this recommendation the community-based organisation the National Sorry Day Committee was formed.

Simply put, the nation of Australia owes the original aboriginal inhabitants of our land an enormous apology for the many terrible things done to them. Here locally the Dharawal people suffered, and the first prominent event noted was the Appin Massacre:

Word came from McAllister, an overseer on Dr Redfern’s farm, that a group of Aborigines were camped there, so the soldiers marched north along the Georges River. It was a wild goose chase. No Aborigines were sighted. “I reprobated McAllister’s conduct most highly” wrote Captain Wallis.

However, on the evening of April 16 word came from Tyson; a group of Aborigines were camped at Broughton’s farm, near Appin. A little after 1 o’clock in the morning the soldiers arrived at the camp. “The fires were burning but deserted.”

“A few of my men? heard a child cry”, wrote Captain Wallis. “I formed line ranks, entered and pushed on through a thick brush towards the precipitous banks of a deep rocky creek. The dogs gave the alarm and the natives fled over the cliffs? It was moonlight.”

“I regret to say some (were) shot and others met their fate by rushing in despair over the precipice? Fourteen dead bodies were counted in different directions?.”

How many others might have died when they plunged over the precipice will never be known.

Five prisoners were taken. One was Hume’s friend, Doual. In August 1816, Macquarie banished Doual to Van Diemen’s Land “in remittance of the death sentence imposed upon him”.

Macquarie had started out as a sympathetic friend to the Aborigines. In the end, more than fourteen (including women and children) met violent deaths as a result of his orders. The date of the infamous massacre at Appin was 17th April 1816.

This, and far worse, went on all over the country. In the 20th Century we took children from their parents, dragging them away under force in order to “give them a better life”. The arrogance is astounding. The unhidden racism is shocking.

Aboriginal people remain some of the very worst treated, most marginalised and underprivileged of all Australians.

Acts 17:26 From one man God made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.

We ought to be very very sorry.

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  1. Ron Johnson

    May I respectfully disagree with a perpetual “Sorry Day” David?
    The National apology was sought by Aboriginal elders, and given by Kevin Rudd on behalf of both the nation and the generations that perpetrated the crimes.
    What was done was horrible, there is no doubt about that.
    However, to live in perpetual apology and shame for what modern day Australians had no part in, is to continue an “us and them” mentality which does no good to indigenous people or the nation as a whole.

    There are far too many Aboriginal activists who continually place chips on younger shoulders about things that cannot be changed.
    This mentality and attitude is one major contributor towards depression, alcohol problems, crime, and suicide among young Aboriginal kids in the outback, and the activists can’t see that.
    These activists rather, should be teaching the younger generation how to live successfully in the here and now.

    How about a National “Forgiveness Day” ?

    This could be an annual event where elders, politicians, businesses and community representatives come together to plan ways forward in dealing with the issues facing Aboriginal people today.

    This I think is a Biblical approach reflecting what happens to people when they come to Christ.
    They confess their sins to the offended party (God) – there is reparation paid (by Jesus on the Cross) – and the way forward is to live under His Lordship (not repeating the sins of the past).

    There is now no condemnation – neither does He bring up my sordid past ever again that I should live under the pain of it.
    This is true freedom and reconciliation.

  2. Alan


    You said:- “In the 20th Century we took children from their parents, dragging them away under force in order to “give them a better life”.

    This is questionable. In the years since the Bringing them Home report was published, several well-funded attempts by the Aboriginal Legal Service on behalf of children removed by the authorities from their parents have failed to establish that these removals were racially motivated or part of any alleged government genocidal policy. See, for example, Gunner & Cubillo v. Commonwealth (2000) 174 ALR 97, and Collard v State of Western Australia [No.4] 2013 WASC 455, each of which involved Aboriginal children raised in Anglican institutions.

    In the 21st century, Aboriginal children are greatly over-represented in the statistics of children removed from their parents out of concern for their welfare. This fact ought at least to give us pause for thought before we dishonour the memory of people, many of them Christians, many of whom displayed selfless love and care for Aboriginal children in need, by accusing them of ‘unhidden racism’.

  3. David Ould

    hi Ron and Alan,

    Thanks for commenting on this difficult topic. I want to push back gently on some of the things you’ve noted, without suggesting in any way that you’re striving for anything other than clarity and a gospel response.

    Ron, I rather like the concept of a “forgiveness day” but I’m not sure that’s something we (as representatives of the offending party) can actually do. It’s up to Aboriginal communities to forgive. Of course, the wonder of the gospel is that many have forgiven and my colleague that we heard from on this topic is a great example of the work of grace and mercy in the lives of those offended against.

    Either way, a “sorry” day does need to encompass moving forward and I know that this is part of the ongoing movement. But I think it’s a little naïve and presumptive to stop saying sorry when there are still so many wrongs that need righting. Nevertheless, I do appreciate the sentiment you are communicating.

    Alan, I think there is (perhaps) a distinction between what can be established in the courts and what the experience of many aboriginal people was. Again, my immediate frame of reference is the words of our colleague; a soundly converted aboriginal man now in full-time pastoral ministry. Whether or not we can establish racial motivation in the courts, it surely does not discount those many stories and experiences. The reality is that we have a stolen generation and we need to work out why.

    My brother in ministry, as you note, took time to mark out the good and godly work of many Christians in this period who sought to love and care for these most marginalised of people.

  4. Ron Johnson

    Thank you David for your thoughts on my Sorry Day comments. Just a couple of comments on your thoughts:

    1. <<<<<>>>>
    Herein lies the problem David – I/you/we are not the offending parties. We cannot take the blame for what our forebears did, let alone go on saying sorry for what they did.

    And it is not hard to see that a “forgiveness day” would never be initiated from within the Aboriginal community.
    I think that the Bible is clear that if we have caused offence or been offended by others, either way, it is our duty as Christians to take the initiative.
    Our responsibilities then, lay more in what we do in the present i.e. the forced closures of communities which simply feeds the hatred that is so obvious towards the white fellas.
    Present day issues need to be addressed right now, otherwise we’ve learned nothing from those past mistakes.
    2. <<<<

    Yes you’re right, there are many wrongs that need righting (as I’ve said above), but they are not righted by continuing to say sorry for the past as in Sorry Day.
    And yes, I may be a little naïve – but having spent years on the ground, where all I saw was a perpetuation of dissatisfaction, that helped no one. While on a pastoral level, we would never encourage white people in the pews with issues from the past, to feed on those hurts.

    There are a many activists out there trying to convince indigenous people that ALL white people are racist – and that needs to be dealt with daily on a pastoral level in indigenous churches and communities.

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