National Apology Day (Australia), 13th February

On 13 February 2008, the first sitting of the new parliamentary year, then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally acknowledged the immense suffering experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people due to past government policies of forced child removal and decades of mistreatment of Indigenous Australians.
The PM delivered an apology to the Stolen Generations.

Apology Transcript
Prime Minister (Hon Kevin Rudd MP): Mr Speaker, I move:
That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.
We reflect on their past mistreatment.
We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were Stolen Generations – this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.
The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.
We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.
We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.
For the pain, suffering and hurt of these Stolen Generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.
To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.
And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.
We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.
For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.
We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.
A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.
A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.

“Sorry is the most important word because it has great meaning in our
community, it means having empathy and compassion and
(Christine King, Stolen Generation Alliance, 2008)

“It’s a moment that all Australians should feel incredibly proud of, that we’re recognising the mistakes of the past, acknowledging them, and moving forward together, indigenous and non-indigenous people side-by-side.”
(Christine King, Stolen generation Alliance, 2008)

The ‘Bringing them Home’ Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families revealed the extent of the forced removal, which went on for more than 150 years; its consequences in terms of broken families, shattered physical and mental health, loss of language, culture and connection to traditional land and the enormous distress of many of its victims today. The ongoing legacy continues today. That there was a systematic policy by State, Territory and Federal governments to separate Indigenous Australian children from their families must be acknowledged and understood by all Australians before healing can commence.

A moving selection of personal stories, short quotes from members of the Stolen generation can be accessed here.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time…..
But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine,
then let us work together.”
(Lilla Watson, Brisbane based Aboriginal educator and activist)

Hands of healing (Marty Haugen)

(singing begins 1.27)

Suggestions for a time of prayer
(Source: Religious Education Team, Brisbane Catholic Education)
Joining people all over Australia, we remember the hurt inflicted onto our Indigenous brothers and sisters and commit ourselves to reconciliation.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners/Custodians who have cared for this land for thousands of years. We also acknowledge their descendants who maintain spiritual connections and traditions. Let us reflect together, before we pray, on the millions of footprints that have travelled the Dreaming pathways and our own loved ones who have gone before us.
(Brisbane Justice and peace Commission and Toowoomba Social Justice Commission and Aboriginal Partners)

Opening Prayer
Let us pray:
God of Justice,
We come to seek your guidance, wisdom and compassion
As we pray for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been wronged in the past, may our hearts be open to receive your healing grace, so that we in turn bring healing to each other.
We ask this prayer through Christ, our Lord, Amen.

Reading: Matthew 5:3-11
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heave.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
This is a reading of the Good News. Thanks be to God.


Wednesday 13th February 2008 marks a significant event for all Australians when our Federal Parliament said sorry to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who were so wronged in the past. We here today focus on the healing dimension of reconciliation and remember the suffering of the indigenous people. We come to say sorry and truly work together to make amends. We recognise that true healing starts by making amends, not in isolation, but by all Australians coming together in compassion and love.
Today we come united as we pray to God, who will heal our wounds, and free us to love and show compassion, justice and peace to all.

Song: The Cry of the Poor: (Taken from J. Foley. Gather Australia: Singing the Liturgy: As One Voice (1))

Song: They Took the Children Away, Archie Roach – from the album “Charcoal Lane” (Mushroom Records)

This story’s right, this story’s true
I would not tell lies to you
Like the promises they did not keep
And how they fenced us in like sheep.
Said to us come take our hand
Sent us off to mission land.
Taught us to read, to write and pray
Then they took the children away, 
Took the children away, 
The children away.
Snatched from their mother’s breast
Said this is for the best
Took them away.
The welfare and the policeman
Said you’ve got to understand
We’ll give them what you can’t give
Teach them how to really live.
Teach them how to live they said
Humiliated them instead
Taught them that and taught them this
And others taught them prejudice.
You took the children away
The children away
Breaking their mothers heart
Tearing us all apart
Took them away
One dark day on Framingham
Come and didn’t give a damn
My mother cried go get their dad
He came running, fighting mad
Mother’s tears were falling down
Dad shaped up and stood his ground.
He said ‘You touch my kids and you fight me’
And they took us from our family
Took us away, they took us away
Snatched from our mother’s breast
Said this was for the best
Took us away.
Told us what to do and say
Told us all the white man’s ways
Then they split us up again
And gave us gifts to ease the pain
Sent us off to foster homes
As we grew up we felt alone
Cause we were acting white
Yet feeling black
One sweet day all the children came back
The children come back
The children come back
Back where their hearts grow strong
Back where they all belong
The children came back
Said the children come back
The children come back
Back where they understand
Back to their mother’s land
The children come back
Back to their mother
Back to their father
Back to their sister
Back to their brother
Back to their people
Back to their land
All the children come back
The children come back
The children come back
Yes I came back. (Music and lyrics: Archie Roach)
Source: LyricFind

Participants are asked to write their own thoughts and prayers onto their healing hands (trace around hands onto paper). These are then placed around the sacred space.

Together we pray the Lord’s Prayer
(taken from the Koenpal Stradbroke Island People)
Our Father
Who stop up there
Your name is good
Come down to us
We do here what they do up there
Today give us bread
Forgive us this time
Don’t lead us to do wrong
Take us away from bad
You are great, all is yours. Forever

Let us turn to God in prayer for what we need to be true followers of Jesus
God of justice,
We pray that all Australians recognise the hurts of our past that have been inflicted on our Indigenous brothers and sisters. May we learn from our mistakes and act with justice and compassion as we work towards equality and justice for all people.
For this we pray…..
In unity, God hear our prayer.
God of comfort,
We pray for reconciliation and compassion and the grace to move forward together in peace.
For this we pray….
In unity, God hear our prayer.
God of fairness
We pray that Australians act with fairness and justice towards Indigenous Australians. May we bring comfort to those who are suffering and healing love to those whose lives have been shattered broken.
For this we pray…..
In unity, God hear our prayer.
God of community,
We pray for the human community: that we will continue to nurture our relationships with you, our Creator God, with one another and with all creation.
For this we pray….
In unity, God hear our prayer.
God of reconciliation and mercy,
We pray for ourselves as followers of Jesus: that we will build reconciling and inclusive communities to which people are drawn and have a strong sense of belonging.
For this we pray….
In unity, God hear our prayer.
God of the marginalised,
We pray for all Christians: that we will cultivate a deep awareness of, and commitment to, social justice and social welfare by hearing and answering the cry of the poor and outcast in our local communities.
For this we pray……
In unity, God hear our prayer.

Concluding Prayer
Loving God,
You who created all people in your image and likeness,
May we listen with care to all people of this land and treat all with respect
Source of all creation and unity, bless us in our endeavours to live as one in Christ. Amen.
May you our God of justice, give us the strength and courage to transform the world according to the vision of Jesus. Amen.
May you our God, model of community and equality, inspire us to bring harmony and a new vision of reconciliation to all. Amen.
And may Almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Song: A new heart for a new world
Trisha watts/ M. O’Brien Gather Australia As One Voice (1)
Create a new heart holy Lord,
Beckon our lives through your word,
Open our eyes to your call,
United as one, for your world.
Heighten our minds to your thoughts,
Heal of pride, and of hurt
May we go forth in your name, we pray our hearts change.
The heart of the cross, lowly and poor, calls us on. Lord, it is you promising hope, promising truth.
Restless the hearts who yearn for your peace in this land.
Deepen the dream, justice brings life, justice redeems.

Saying Sorry Prayer Ritual
(Religious Education Team, Brisbane Catholic Education)
People gather in silence, coming together as a slow drum/gong beat is sounded. Alternatively reflective music could be used.
God of all creation,
We who have come from every land give thanks for Australia;
This earth that feeds us;
The shores that bind us;
The skies that envelop us in freedom.
We stand together, united as one people;
Proud of our ability to work together;
Grateful for our gifts;
Nourished by our diversity and our harmony.
Yet we turn to the original owners of our land, and see, too, what has been taken from them.
We weep for their loss of freedom, of country, of children – even of their very lives.
We stand in awe at their survival and in debt for their land.
We have shadows in our history which if unfaced diminish us.
We have taken without asking;
our nation has taken without asking;
Lives are wounded. We see the pain, feel the sorrow and we say sorry.
Let us look back with courage, see the truth and speak it.
Let us look around with compassion; see the cost and share it.
Let us look forward with hope; see what can be and create it.
Give us courage to face the ‘truth’.
Compassion to share the burden.
Strength to play our part in the healing.
And hope to walk forward to a place of justice.
With courage, compassion, strength and hope,
We will walk together on the journey of healing.

A reading adapted from the book of Isaiah.
Here are my servants whom I uphold, my chosen ones with whom I am pleased. Upon them I have put my spirit; they shall bring forth justice to the nations, Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spreads out the earth with its crops, Who gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it:
I, the Lord, have called you to be agents of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.
This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Compassionate God, our community is gathered here in your name. Today we recall the great sadness carried by so many people who belong to the stolen generation. We say sorry and in doing so, we acknowledge their grief with empathy and compassion.
For those times we have made other feel less worthy than ourselves –
We say sorry.
For the times we have judged others without really trying to understand how they might be feeling.
We say sorry.
For the times we have been impatient, selfish or thoughtless with others.
We say sorry.
Let us now offer each other a sign of God’s peace.
A sign of peace is exchanged – shaking hands or some other simple ritual action.

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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