It’s a new year, and I’ve started back at work after an excellent break. Now, I have some positive and hopeful things to share on my blog.
The new Australian government has announced that in just 13 days time, the Prime Minister will make a formal apology, on the floor of the parliament, to the Stolen Generations—indigenous Australians who, over a period of decades, were taken away by force of law, as children. Many never saw their families again. The psychological harm to the families and to the children is inestimable.
For 11 long years the previous government refused to say ‘Sorry’. This word has become a powerful symbol and at last we have a national leader who is willing to use it.
Sorry is not the hardest word: indeed, it will be a word of life.
The aboriginal people of Australia have come to call this whole saga of the Stolen Generations ‘sorry business’.
It is a matter of great sorrow for them, that so many have suffered so much.
But even more so, it is a deep, deep sorrow that the dominant culture seems unable to acknowledge this.
Truth to tell, so many of us have seen this. Huge numbers of groups, perhaps especially the churches, have indeed said ‘Sorry’. The churches have much to say ‘sorry’ about, as they were some of the principal agents in actually removing the children.
State Governments have also said, ‘Sorry’.
But our national government continued the preposterous claim that it is not necessary for the present generations to apologize for what previous generations did, and furthermore they acted in good faith, meaning to do good for the children …
Even now there are some conservative groups trying to make this protest.
Crucial to this whole debate is the power of symbol.
I think this is one area where our national psyche is deeply, deeply impoverished. We live, as so many of our writers have shown us, on the edge of things: on the edge of the continent, and on the surface of life. We do not like to go into the centre, into the depths. We are beach people, on the edge of things. (Hey, I love the beach too!!)
But we need to follow the historic explorers, and the wisdom of the indigenous, to discover that in fact the centre of this continent is not, as people used to called it ‘the dead heart’. God help us, it is we who have had a dead heart.
No, the indigenous people knew, for tens of thousands of years, that there is life in the centre: it is possible to live there, even to worship there.
Symbolically, and literally, we need to learn to go deeper.
More so, we need to learn the life-giving power of the symbolic itself. It will bring us to new resources of community, relationship, peace.
Today I wrote this to my local member of parliament, begging him (despite his party’s opposition) to support the Apology:
‘I am very grateful that in the past you have indicated your support for active steps towards reconciliation with the indigenous peoples, and for an apology to the Stolen Generations.
Please will you now, also, actively support the Rudd government’s apology and its acknowledgment of country. These measures are not ‘merely’ symbolic, they are powerfully symbolic, and will be very helpful in enabling us all to move towards healing and reconciliation.
I believe our nation cannot truly move towards security, on the international stage, unless we move towards inward peace and a genuine sense of our own identity in this land.
These steps are integral to that security.’
I hope and pray that soon we will find new depths of reconciliation, and I truly believe that this will bring us to a new sense of security. This will help us to overcome the fear-ridden ways of the Bush and Howard era.
May it bring us to hope, hope in human community, but also hope in God.
Sorry is not the hardest word. The hardest word and the hardest way is surely, ‘It’s not my fault. I didn’t do any of this, so I don’t need to get involved, or to say ‘sorry’.’
That is the way, not only of hard-heartedness, but of fear, guilt, and in the end a slow, inward death. We have endured that way long enough.
Let us say, ‘Sorry’ and together choose life.
In doing so, we will discover, I believe, something of God.