National Sorry Day

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National Sorry Day held on the 26th of May each year
Also calledSorry Day
Observed by Australia
SignificanceRemember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia's indigenous population
Date26 May
Next time26 May 2021 (2021-05-26)
First time26 May 1998 (1998-05-26)

National Sorry Day, or the National Day of Healing, is an annual event that has been held in Australia on 26 May since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment of the country's Indigenous peoples, as part of an ongoing process of reconciliation between the Indigenous peoples and the settler population. During the 20th century, Australian government policies caused children to be separated from their families, with the intention of assimilating them into White Australian culture. This resulted in what became known as the "Stolen Generations", with the effects of these traumatic removals being felt by succeeding generations even today.

On 26 May 1997, the Bringing Them Home report, the result of a government inquiry into the practice, was tabled in Parliament. The report made many recommendations, including that state and federal governments should issue formal apologies and that funding should be provided to help deal with the consequences of the policies. This date now carries great significance for the Stolen Generations and other Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders, and is also commemorated by many non-Indigenous Australians.

The incumbent Prime Minister John Howard refused to apologise, but Kevin Rudd issued a formal apology on behalf of the government and people when he was prime minister, on 13 February 2008.

Background and history[edit]

A commemorative poster from 2008

An older Indigenous protest day is the Day of Mourning, which originated in 1938, focusing on civil rights for Aboriginal people.[1]

On 26 May 1997, Bringing them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was tabled in Parliament. Among its many recommendations was one that the Prime Minister apologise to the Stolen Generations.[2] Prime Minister John Howard refused to do so, stating that he "did not subscribe to the black armband view of history".[3] The government policy of removing children from their families and placing them in care elsewhere was later described by American sociologist John Torpey as "Aboriginal children separated, often forcibly, from their families in the interest of turning them into white Australians".[4]

On 26 May 1998, the first National Sorry Day was held.[5]

On 26 August 1999, Prime Minister John Howard moved a Motion of Reconciliation, which included an expression of "deep and sincere regret that Indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many Indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices".[6] The opposition leader, Kim Beazley, moved to replace John Howard's motion of regret with an unreserved apology which was not successful.[7]

The annual commemorations are intended to raise awareness among politicians, policy makers, and the wider public about the forcible removal policies and their impact on the children who were taken, their families and their communities.

On 28 May 2000, more than 250,000 people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, participated in a walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, organised by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to protest the lack of a government apology to Indigenous people, show solidarity and to raise public awareness of the issue.[5]

In 2005, the National Sorry Day Committee renamed the day as the National Day of Healing, with the motion tabled in Parliament by Senator Aden Ridgeway. In his words, "the day will focus on the healing needed throughout Australian society if we are to achieve reconciliation".[5]

On 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved a motion of Apology to Indigenous Australians.[8] His apology was a formal apology on behalf of the successive parliaments and governments whose policies and laws "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians".[5] The apology was the new parliament's first order of business; Rudd became the first Australian Prime Minister to publicly apologise to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian federal government. The apology was passed unanimously as a motion by both houses of parliament, as thousands of people gathered to hear the apology both in the Great Hall and outside Parliament House in Canberra and in large gatherings across the country, in schools, offices and public squares. Crying, cheering and clapping followed.[9]

Close the Gap[edit]

Close the Gap is a social justice campaign focused on Indigenous health, in which "Australia's peak Indigenous and non-Indigenous health bodies, NGOs and human rights organisations are working together to achieve equality in health", whose Steering Committee first met in March 2006. Their campaign was launched in April 2007 by patrons Catherine Freeman OAM and Ian Thorpe OAM, launched the Campaign.[10]

The Australian government adopted its goals in 2008,[5] in a strategy known as Closing the Gap.[11] Rudd pledged the government to bridging the gap between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Australian health, education and living conditions, and in a way that respects their rights to self-determination.[12] He also proposed to establish a commission to "close the gap" between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in "life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity".[13] During meetings held in December 2007 and March 2008 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) adopted six targets (later increased to seven) to improve the wellbeing of Indigenous Australians over the next five to twenty years.

In 2009, Rudd committed to making an annual progress report to Parliament on progress with the Closing the Gap strategy. Each year, the Close the Gap Steering Committee publishes a report detailing the Government's progress in achieving its targets.[10]

As of 2019, there have been 11 Closing the Gap Reports presented to Parliament, providing data in areas that previously had none and updates on progress.[14] Close the Gap has produced 10 reports, including a 10-year review in 2018.[10]

See also[edit]

Other countries[edit]


  1. ^ "1938 Day of Mourning – Aboriginal Civil Rights Protest". Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  2. ^ Kim Beazley (25 May 2001). "Labor's Response To The Stolen Generation - Bringing Them Home Report". Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  3. ^ McKenna, Dr Mark (10 November 1997). "Different Perspectives on Black Armband History". Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 2 November 2006.
  4. ^ Torpey, John C. (2006). Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780674019430.
  5. ^ a b c d e "Australia marks 20-year anniversary of Sorry Day". SBS News. 26 May 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  6. ^ "Motion of Reconciliation". Parliament of Australia. 26 August 1999. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  7. ^ "House of representatives Hansard Thursday 26 August 1999" (PDF). Parliament of Australia Hansard. 26 August 1999. p. 152. Retrieved 4 November 2006.
  8. ^ "Official Australian Government Website – Sorry Day and the Stolen Generation". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 12 May 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  9. ^ "The Apology: ABC News". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 16 February 2008. Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 11 September 2010.; "Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples". Australian Parliament. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2016.; Burgess, Matthew; Rennie, Reko (13 February 2008). "Tears in Melbourne as PM delivers apology". The Age. Retrieved 13 February 2008.; "Speech by Kevin Rudd to the Parliament: 13 February 2008". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Archived from the original on 2 October 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2016.; "Thousands greet Stolen Generations apology". ABC News Online. ABC. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008.; "Cheers, tears as Rudd says 'sorry'". ABC Online. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  10. ^ a b c "Close the Gap: Indigenous Health Campaign". Australian Human Rights Commission. 21 March 2019. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  11. ^ "Closing the Gap". Australian Indigenous Health Infonet. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  12. ^ "Govt promises action after apology". ABC News. ABC. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008.; Calma, Tom (24 September 2008). "UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Australia should sign". Koori Mail (435). Lismore, NSW: Budsoar. p. 27.
  13. ^ "Govt promises action after apology". ABC News. ABC. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008.; Calma, Tom (24 September 2008). "UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Australia should sign". Koori Mail (435). Lismore, NSW: Budsoar. p. 27.
  14. ^ Australian Government. Dept of Prime Minister and Cabinet (2019). "Closing the Gap Report 2019: The annual report to Parliament on progress in Closing the Gap". Retrieved 26 December 2019.

External links[edit]