Paying respects on Sorry Day

Flight Lieutenant Aimee McCartney signs the Sorry Day table. Photo: Tom Parry

National Sorry Day 2022 was observed last week with a moving event at Ramahyuck’s Noel Yarram (Snr) Centre.

Held annually on May 26, the day acknowledges the strength and resilience of Stolen Generations survivors, who were forcibly removed from their families as children.

For Ramahyuck chairperson Sandra Nielson, the occasion brings with it strong emotions.

“I had a sister taken away as a two-year-old from her mother, and there was no reconnection until she was 18 years old,” Ms Nielson said.

“It affected her, and it affected her kids, and it’s affected the grandkids.”

While Sorry Day can be one of grief for many First Nations people, Ms Nielson acknowledged that it can also be a time for healing.

“It also gets other people understanding what the Stolen Generation was about, because they only hear those words – they don’t understand what it is,” Ms Nielson said.

“(Sorry Day) is our day of talking to people and letting them know what (those words) really meant, and what it really meant to the Aboriginal people.”

The Ramahyuck event began at 11am with a minute’s silence, followed by brief speeches from Ms Nielson, Kayla Kennedy-Hills and Uncle John Gorrie PSM, himself a survivor of the Stolen Generation.

Tears welled as Mr Gorrie discussed being separated from his mother, highlighting the trauma that survivors continue to carry with them several decades after their forced removal.

Kayla Kennedy-Hills, Sandra Nielson and Uncle John Gorrie PSM at Ramahyuck’s National Sorry Day event.
Photo: Tom Parry

Afterwards, attendees were encouraged to inscribe their name, artwork and messages of support into a picnic table.

“It’ll have Sorry Day written on it, and then lacquered of course, just to remind everyone that there’s a place to come and sit at that table,” Ms Nielson explained.

“But when anyone does sit there, it’s reminding them of the Sorry Day, so the message (of the day) is out there the whole time.”

National Sorry Day marks the beginning of National Reconciliation Week, and coincides with the anniversary of the 1967 federal referendum, which saw Australians vote overwhelmingly to reject discrimination of Indigenous peoples in the constitution.

In recent times, the day has also acknowledged the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, delivered by Kevin Rudd in 2008.

Ms Nielson said that Mr Rudd’s apology “brought it home to everybody that someone is finally listening.”

“Everyone is grateful for Kevin Rudd – we don’t know if a lot has changed over the time since he said (the apology), but for the Aboriginal people it is really powerful,” she said.

Her sentiments were echoed by Mr Gorrie, who described Mr Rudd as his hero – “I think he’s been a hero to many Stolen Generation people.”

Both Ms Nielson and Mr Gorrie expressed a desire to see greater public recognition for Sorry Day, with the latter suggesting a flyover by the RAAF Roulettes at future events.

This was received enthusiastically by the RAAF East Sale members in attendance – including Group Captain Nigel Ward – who committed their full approval to the suggestion.

Reconciliation Week officially concludes this Friday, June 3.