Explaining the Sorry Day

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NATIONAL Sorry Day, which has been held on May 26 since 1998, is not on the radar of many.

Newcastle’s Cherie Johnson says that was because what the day represents is poorly understood.

The date of Sorry Day coincides with tabling of the Bringing Them Home report in the Federal Parliament on May 26, 1997. A report that described the separation and forced removal of Aboriginal children from their communities to turn them into “white Australians”.

“People want to know why are we addressing this day (Sorry Day), this issue?,” Mrs Johnson said.

“There is still the thought that things that have happened to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, that it was something that happened a long time ago.

“But there isn’t a family today that hasn’t been affected and is still living through the traumas of those acts and policies.

“So, it actually is very relevant today and we see the fruit of that today – and it isn’t good fruit – when you look at the fact four per cent of Aboriginal people in the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area reach the age of 65, only four per cent.”

Mrs Johnson said 40 per cent of the Aboriginal population in the Hunter were aged under 15. However, “the old people” were not living long enough to bring their “wealth of knowledge” and support to younger people throughout their lives.

“When you look at the bell curve, with lots of young people at the bottom and not many older people at the top, that is typical of a third world country,” Mrs Johnson said.  “And that’s Newcastle, Maitland, Lake Macquarie and Nelson Bay.”

This, when you consider the importance of community and family support in order to achieve in the areas of education, employment and health, was having a big impact on the community, she said.

Government policies which saw the establishment of missions and reserves, assimilation and the forced removal of children from their communities where some of the forces behind “complex” problems the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community were facing today.

“How do you summarise more than 200 years of dispossession so people can understand it,” she said. “We lived a camping lifestyle always. Always learning, always teaching, always exercising, eating a paleo style diet … walking 10-15km a day, swimming, climbing trees…

“Then to go onto a reserve because they couldn’t live on their ancestral lands. They couldn’t practice culture, they couldn’t speak their language.”

What the non-indigenous community can do to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is to not deny the history, she said.

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