Regarding Alan Goodall’s Feb. 18 article, “Australia’s historic apology“: Goodall’s rendition of the mood of the “Sorry Day” apology by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was apt. Although the reply by the opposition leader Brendan Nelson was criticized by some, it provided the balance that many thought was due in connection with the description of the “Stolen Generation.”
Labels like “Stolen Generation” have evoked emotive responses and criticism by many in the Australian mainstream. It is wrong to separate children from their parents, and as far as the aboriginal population for whom such a policy was in place, that wrong can no longer be denied, nor an apology delayed, even where the policy was implemented with the best intentions.
Yet to malign all those who lived through or participated in the implementation of the policy is equally wrong. The people involved saw the rescue of young aboriginal children from irresponsible parents or half-castes ostracized by aboriginal communities as of high importance: No one should be forced to live in destitution because of an accident of birth. The stories are quite complex and vary from person to person.
Having lived in a country town where an aboriginal population occasionally mixed with the broader community, I became aware of an irreconcilable aboriginal position in the experience of being an Australian. It was rationalized away. Aborigines were treated with kid gloves, given a measure of respect as the “First Australians,” and regarded with a mix of pity and contempt for their degenerate behavior.
I suppose the real question is how Aborigines can fit into the Australian story and feel that they’re part of it too, rather than be treated as outsiders. The stark cross-cultural experience I gained when I lived in Japan helped me to appreciate this question. We will have to wait and see what eventuates. Goodness of intention has been besmirched in the past.