National Sorry Day

Today, 26 May, is National Sorry Day.

Wattle Place remembers and reflects on the immense suffering of those who were stolen, those who were left behind, and those who feel the impacts still today. We also honour your amazing strength and courage.

Today marks the 26th Anniversary of the handing down of the Bringing Them Home report into the history and circumstances of First Nations children’s removal from their families and communities, that is, the Stolen Generations.

“The report, Bringing them home, released in May 1997, focused on children who had been in institutions and church missions, or those who had been adopted or fostered and described how indigenous children had been forcibly separated from their families and communities since the European settlement of Australia. The report revealed many shocking stories of abuse and deprivation, including in foster care and provided information about the history and consequences of the removal of children from their families”[1]

It documented the systematic drive to remove as many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children as possible from their families and communities, in order to remove any lingering populations of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Why do we need to commemorate National Sorry Day?

Some may question why we commemorate the handing down of a report. Any anniversary that we mark reflects:

  • how much we value a person/people – it shows they matter, they are seen
  • honouring the sacrifice made or benefit delivered by the people involved – it shows they are appreciated
  • validating the experiences of the people involved – acknowledging that their experiences are real, very impactful, and a significant part of our collective history
  • the significance of an event/action – it shows it is important
  • that humans will sometimes do the wrong thing and we should learn from the tragedy of those wrongdoings, rather than committing them again – it shows that we’re sorry

All of these reasons can be applied to the handing down of such a significant, influential document. The report was not just words. It was people’s suffering, people’s heartbreak, people’s struggles, people’s shame, exposed to all of us. It was proof and it was truth, which most of us were unaware of at the time.

An ongoing legacy

The Report also highlighted the ongoing consequences for individuals who experienced this kind of trauma. When people speak about the impacts of the Stolen Generations still existing today, they are referring to the fact that people who experienced childhood trauma face many more hurdles as they move through life than those who have not experienced trauma.  Importantly, not all members of the Stolen Generations experienced the same levels of trauma, or responded to trauma as adults in the same way. There are countless (and not all equally understood) variables that influence the trajectory of a person who experienced childhood trauma. The point is, though, that childhood trauma cannot be ignored in relation to disadvantage in adulthood.

The especially cruel outcome of the Stolen Generations, if all of this wasn’t cruel enough, was the dismantling of entire Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander societies. They had already taken their land, resources and freedom, with most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being forced onto missions. By then separating the children away from their communities, they could no longer learn any cultural knowledge or practices and were banned from speaking their language. They had to adapt to the ways of white people, but continued to be treated with contempt and cruelty by white society.

A shared journey forward

“The Stolen Generations” is about more than kids being taken from their parents. When you hear the term today, or over the next few days or weeks, take the opportunity to think a little more deeply than what normally flashes in your mind when you hear “Stolen Generations”.

Digging beneath the surface can expose you to much more knowledge, which brings understanding and, most importantly, enable you to use your knowledge in the context of other knowledge and information. Knowing the truth behind why something is how it is, or someone is how they are can greatly enrich your understanding of the world, and the people, around you.

We take this opportunity to thank the members of the Stolen Generations who told their stories to the Inquiry. For their strength and courage in confronting their trauma to shine a light on that part of our collective history, so that all of us could learn and grow. I hope that we honour them by continuing that journey of growth as a country.


Note: “Bringing Them Home” was the first report in Australia to bring national attention and focus to the practice, by multiple governments, of removing children from their families and placing them in institutions or foster homes. Following the Bringing Them Home Report, a number of enquiries were held, and reports handed down, into the treatment of Australian children who were not part of the Stolen Generations, in institutions and foster homes. Wattle Place was established after the Inquiry into Forgotten Australians and Former Child Migrants. Wattle Place supports Forgotten Australians, Stolen Generations, Former Child Migrants and NSW care leavers, all of whom are united by their shared experiences of institutional and foster care, regardless of the legislation and policies that placed them there.