Yesterday’s apology to the Stolen Generations felt momentous. I had read the official words that would officially constitute the apology, but I hadn’t reckoned on the speech that the Prime Minister went on to deliver (full video and full transcript). It was breathtakingly good, unexpectedly ballsy in it’s directness and honesty, and struck a fine balance between a personal sincerity and respect, and government responsibility. I hadn’t anticipated getting teary, but did at the point when Rudd said
As Prime Minister of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Government of Australia, I am sorry. On behalf of the Parliament of Australia, I am sorry. And I offer you this apology without qualification.
Euphoric, we watched and cheered as parliamentarians stood to applaud the speech and the indigenous guests in the house, and saw the exchange of hugs between the leaders and the guests (the most touching was that between Jenny Macklin, Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Lowitja O’Donoghue).
Then Brendon Nelson, Leader of the Opposition, gave his right of reply speech. It’s amazing how quickly a mood can change. We knew he should be politely let to say his piece, knowing he would have to appease the naysayers in his own party (after all, he was one himself a couple of months ago – it was the issue that gave him the edge to win leadership over Turnbull after the election – an intersting reflection!) . If Nelson had had any sense of what had just happened, and the wits to think on his feet, he would have realised he had been completely gazumped, and that anything that he said short of ‘We agree, we are sorry for our part in it, lets pass the motion’ would seem mealy-mouthed.
But no, as his speech, delivered in a kindergarten teacher tone, went on it became misguided, then inappropriate, and finally offensive. On the lawns outside where I was, the euphoria and celebration dissipated, replaced with some anger but mostly a quiet, almost desperate determination not to pay attention to those things that he was trying to rub our noses in. As Ampersand Duck relates, we momentarily thought better of turning our backs, but as things got worse, it was necessary. Apparently crowds all over the country chose to do the same, a reference to the occasion in 1997 at a reconciliation conference when the audience turned their backs on John Howard. Nelson’s speech was a blight on the day.
(Update: I forgot to say that the Opposition actually voted to support the apology. What Nelson said amounted to excuses: ‘I’m sorry , but…’)
The crowd turning their backs:
This guy was giving the finger in double proportions:
I dropped by again a little while later in the day, and the party was still kicking on with concerts at both the lawns and the tent embassy. I wandered up to the forecourt of Parliament, listening to snatches of conversations, stories being told, interviews being given, people sitting around eating and talking and hugging. I wanted to reflect on it all, and be grateful that it had happened, and hope that it means more good will come from it in the future.
Actor Ernie Dingo being interviewed. He was one of the invited guests.
It was fun to bump into Ampersand Duck and Crit. They both have cool photos and accounts of the day :)
Tim was also there. Isn’t this photo cool? He will probably post more over the next week or so, too, so check back on his site.