“Sorry Means Shit”: Sydney Protest Challenges White Australia’s Definition Of Reconciliation

Protesters reflected on how Indigenous child removals still take place at their National Sorry Day gathering.

Sorry Day

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Protesters gathered at Sydney Town Hall for National Sorry Day on Wednesday — an annual event to acknowledge and remember the Stolen Generations between 1910 and 1970.

The 1997 ‘Bringing Them Home’ report, released as part of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families, found that between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and community during this period.

Between 80-150 people attended the rally, arranged by Grandmothers Against Removals and the University of Sydney Women’s Collective.

Speakers addressed the regular and rising number of deaths in custody, raising the age of incarceration to higher than 10-years-old, and institutional intervention.

The overarching message was that ‘sorry’ isn’t enough, and that healing can’t happen when Indigenous children continue to be forcibly removed from their parents by government agencies and police.

“So-called Australia doesn’t care about First Nations children. It is trying to complete the colonial project of generational genocide by criminalising First Nations children and ripping families apart,” co-organiser Kimmy Dibben said to the crowd.

Sorry Day

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids form nearly 40% of all children living in out-of-home care, and are over 10 times more likely to be taken away from their families, the Australian Human Rights Commission stated in 2018.

The 2020 ‘Family Matters’ report found that the number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care will double in the next decade if state and federal governments don’t address this overrepresentation.

Rita Shillingsworth gave a speech about her experience being part of the Stolen Generations, and the decades of disconnect from being separated from her culture, history, and family.

“We’re sick of fighting. We just want our kids back,” she said. “They take the kids and they take us [mothers]. They give us heartache, that’s why there’s so many Aboriginal women going into hospitals and dying because of the heartache.”

Sorry Day

Shillingsworth was joined by the first Aboriginal Sydney Lord Mayor candidate Yvonne Weldon, Duulngari activist Erin O’Leary, and a statement read out on behalf of Gomeroi and Birpai woman Helen Eason.

Chants included: ‘kids in community, not in prison’, ‘sovereignty never ceded’, ‘sorry means don’t do it again’, ‘community not intervention, stop the Stolen Generations’ and ‘end the Stolen Generations, nothing less than liberation’.

After speeches, the protesters marched to the Department of Social Services building in Surry Hills.

Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd gave a formal apology to the Stolen Generations on February 15, 2008 that has since been challenged as more needs to be done to correct the past and prevent removals in the present.

“Sorry means shit,” Gomeroi woman Gwenda Stanley told protesters. “Until you start acknowledging the war crimes that are continuing in this country and will continue to happen, we’ll continue to suffer.”

Sorry Day