Reconciliation Week: Aboriginal movers and shakers share what reconciliation means to them

Phoebe PinGeraldton Guardian
Beachlands Primary School student Tyshon Jones, 10 says Sorry Day is an important event.
Camera IconBeachlands Primary School student Tyshon Jones, 10 says Sorry Day is an important event. Credit: Phoebe Pin/Phoebe Pin

Behind every apology should be a positive action to right the wrong.

This is the theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week, which encourages Australians to consider the role they can play in the development of communities which champion Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, stories and futures.

The Guardian spoke to five Aboriginal people about their opinions on the status of reconciliation in Australia and what more needs to be done to promote healing and justice across the Mid West and beyond.

Geraldton poet Nola Gregory

Geraldton poet Nola Gregory, pictured with Zain Laudehr
Camera IconGeraldton poet Nola Gregory, pictured with Zain Laudehr Credit: Geraldton Guardian

Nola Gregory hopes her words will help pave the way for reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

The Gija/Bardi woman only recently laid her grandmother — a victim of the Stolen Generation — to rest on country, with Gregory penning a poem in honour of her beloved nanna.

She hopes her grandmother’s story “tugs at the heartstrings” and helps others understand the trauma experienced by the Aboriginal children who were removed from their families.

“I am hoping that through the poems, people understand the plight these people go through,” she said.

“We need to be about truth-telling now ... because Australia does have a black history and that history has been hidden for so many years. Those pages need to be opened and people need to start reading them.”

Yamatji Vietnam veteran Graham Taylor

Yamaji elder Graham Taylor
Camera IconYamaji elder Graham Taylor Credit: Geraldton Guardian

Graham Taylor, right, was advised not to tell anyone he was in the military after he returned from Vietnam.

But he said he did not let the racist remarks of the few get in the way of working towards a better future for the next generation of Aboriginal Australians.

“Mr (Kevin) Rudd was the first Prime Minister to say sorry (for policies which led to the Stolen Generation) and we all felt very welcomed and happy about it, but that was a long time ago and we are still fighting in a way to make it a lot better for the Aboriginal people here,” he said.

The Geraldton elder’s mother was taken from her Mount Magnet home when she was a child, with Mr Taylor saying the pain of forced removals did not go away.

“A lot of us have still got feelings about the Stolen Generation, and it will be in our hearts all the time,” he said.

Geraldton student Tyshon Jones

Beachlands Primary School student Tyshon Jones, 10 says Sorry Day is an important event.
Camera IconBeachlands Primary School student Tyshon Jones, 10 says Sorry Day is an important event. Credit: Phoebe Pin/Phoebe Pin

A proud young Yamatji man, Tyshon Jones, 10, attended the Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation’s Sorry Day event on Wednesday alongside his Beachlands Primary School classmates.

Speaking to the Guardian and GWN7 at the event, Tyshon explained why Sorry Day was important to him.

“Sorry Day is about when children were stolen from their homes and lost connection with their family and culture, and the Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) acknowledging this,” he said.

Tyshon said he was grateful to be part of a loving family of his own and was confident the future looked bright for the next generation of Aboriginal youth.

“I am proud that I have a happy family and what happened in the past is not going to happen in the future,” he said.

Child protection advocate Will Hayward

Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making group co-chair William Hayward
Camera IconAboriginal Family Led Decision Making group co-chair William Hayward Credit: Picture: Phoebe Pin

Noongar man Will Hayward believes investing in the healing of families affected by the Stolen Generation is the key to reconciliation. Through his work with the Aboriginal Family Led Decision Making pilot in the Mid West, Mr Hayward said he hoped to implement more “culturally secure” models to support young people in the child protection system.

“(The new model) will be highly responsive not only to the immediate child protection concerns ... but also to their families’ healing and restoration and their reunification so families remain strong in their community,” he said.

Mr Hayward said reconciliation involved the recognition of past atrocities and celebration of the achievements of Aboriginal people today. “We must move forward and begin to celebrate each other and begin to truth-tell, but also join in ceremony and share the ownership of this great country together,” he said.

Former member for Kimberley Carol Martin

Former Kimberley MLA Carol Martin speaks at Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation's Sorry Day event.
Camera IconFormer Kimberley MLA Carol Martin speaks at Bundiyarra Aboriginal Corporation's Sorry Day event. Credit: Picture: Phoebe Pin

The first Indigenous woman to be elected to an Australian Parliament, Carol Martin says there is still a long way to go to right the wrongs of the past treatment of Aboriginal people.

At the time, Ms Martin held off making a decision about the sincerity of then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s formal apology in 2008 for policies which led to the Stolen Generation.

But she now says she does not accept the apology.

“Sorry is not just about one word — there is a whole lot of actions that need to follow it, and they never came,” she said at the Bundiyarra event in Geraldton this week.

“It doesn’t matter whether the Labor government lost power or not, there still should have been a commitment to seeing at least structural racism ending, and it didn’t.

“When I look at what is happening today with the incarceration rates of our men, women and children, that says something to me.

“So is it really sorry?

“I don’t think so.”

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails