'We are sorry'
Thursday, 14th February, 2008
A member of the stolen generation believes the Federal Government's historic apology has heralded a "new beginning" in indigenous and non-indigenous relations. Isobel Bennett, who attended a live broadcast of the government's formal apology at the BH High School Hall, said now that Aboriginal people had finally received the apology they had been waiting for they could both look forward to a better future. Ms Bennett was 14 when she was forcibly removed from her home at Menindee in 1945 and taken by train to the Tiwi Islands where she was raised by Catholic nuns.
It was 20 years before she would see her mother again, when she returned to Menindee in 1966, with her own children, to live. The frail grandmother made the 100km trip to Broken Hill to attend yesterday's broadcast beamed from Parliament House in Canberra. She sat at the front and listened with about 200 other people as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said sorry to the families affected by the separation policies of successive governments through much of the 20th century. "When I left here ... I was devastated. I just missed (my family) so much," Ms Bennett said after the morning broadcast. "That's what we've been waiting for, just an apology - nothing else."
Ms Bennett said she felt the apology had given rise to a new relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people, one that had equality as its basis. "I feel like it's going to be a new beginning and I hope it stays like that forever." The apology was also welcomed by Wilcannia woman Suzanne Hall who, along with 11 of her 12 siblings, was taken from her parents and the town as a child. Ms Hall, who attended the broadcast with her husband Dennis Williams, was 13 when she was sent to live in Sydney as a ward of the State. She returned to Wilcannia, where her mother still lived, when she turned 18. "They told us that our mother had died." She was satisfied with Mr Rudd's apology, particularly its emphasis on the many mothers who, like hers, had lost their children. "That was the most important thing, to apologise to my mother," she said. She also welcomed the various commitments Mr Rudd made to improve education, health and employment for Aboriginal people. Mr Williams, whose uncle was forcibly removed, said the apology was "a long time coming". "My grandfather fought in World War I and had a child taken away." The emotion proved too much for some during Mr Rudd's speech. As he began to relate one family's account of forced removal, several Aboriginal women left the hall in tears. At the end of the prime minister's address, the gathering stood and applauded. When Council's General Manager Frank Zaknich later invited people on stage to speak, several people took the opportunity to talk about what the apology meant to them.
Justin Files, Isobel Bennett's grandson, told the crowd that he, like most Australians, lived in hope that all Australians could now live together in harmony."I'm thankful of our Prime Minister's apology and the Opposition leader's response."
Irene Kemp, whose mother was born and raised on a mission in South Australia, said before Australia could move forward people had to lea