To mark the 6th anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations, Menzies staff have shared some reflections to the very important celebration for all Australians.
The question put to current and former members of staff was, With the anniversary of the national apology upon us, what does reconciliation mean to you?
The responses below offer a number of varying perspectives to this landmark event but are all underpinned by a commitment to embracing the spirit of reconciliation.
Menzies Director, Professor Alan Cass
I was driving to work in Sydney glued to my seat listening to the radio, when I heard then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd give the national apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples.
The commitment given in the apology and the subsequent Statement of Intent to Close the Gap in life expectancy and to achieve health equality within a generation provides us as a nation with a fundamentally important challenge.
When I started out as a medical student at Sydney University in 1982, I don’t remember Aboriginal health being given any significant focus during my undergraduate years. For a medical student in Sydney, exposure to Aboriginal health issues was an optional extra, exercised by very few.
A decade later in 1992, I was sent to Alice Springs Hospital as part of my basic specialist physician training. I left Sydney on a Friday, flew to Central Australia and started work on the Monday.
I remember providing care for Aboriginal patients from remote communities, with whom I might speak no more than a few words during an entire hospital admission. There were no interpreter services for the many Aboriginal languages spoken.
The usual pattern was that a critically ill person would be evacuated from their community and flown to the hospital. We would do our best to patch them up and attend to their acute illness and they would leave hospital as soon as they felt the slightest bit better, with a “Discharged against medical advice” stamp prominently displayed in their records. I received no training of any kind to equip me to be an effective care provider in this situation.
At that time, there was no priority given to issues around Aboriginal health, no training in providing services to people across different languages or cultures, no evident concern amongst students or our teachers to be aware of, or seek to understand health disparities.
In the next few years I trained to be a kidney specialist at RPA Hospital. The renal service at RPA had, years before other kidney specialists in NSW, committed to provide a service to Aboriginal communities in Bourke, Breewarinna and Dubbo.
They believed that Aboriginal Australians deserved the same access to renal services as any other Australians and have provided a sustained service for more than 20 years to back up these beliefs.
For me, reconciliation is about mutual respect of non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australians for each other. Undertaking research in true partnership with communities, as we aim to do at Menzies, embodies this mutual respect.
Another aspect of reconciliation is acknowledgement of injustice. In our work an appropriate response is research seeking to understand the causes of health disparities and the drivers of inequitable access to care, in order to improve access and health outcomes. This has always been the main focus of my work in Aboriginal health.
Project Officer - Indigenous Programmes, Linda Quall
To me reconciliation is about non-Indigenous and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people coming to together, building relationships and working together as one.
I can’t remember exactly where I was on the day of the apology but I do remember watching it on TV. I remember it being a very special and emotional moment in time.
My children’s great grand mother was part of the Stolen Generation and was fortunate enough to be at Parliament House at the time of the Apology. She was taken away from Daly River at the age of seven and taken to Garden point Mission on the Tiwi Islands where she grew up.
The Stolen Generation era has played a big part in the pain and suffering the Aboriginal people face today.
Reconciliation is about knowing the history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, acknowledging where our people have come from and the difficulties that are everyday life to some.
Furthermore, it’s about being treated and seen as equals, being heard, valued and respected no matter where you are, whether it’s in the workplace, sporting events or out in public.
Former Menzies project officer, Ramya Ramamoorthi
Coming to Australia in 2003 from India, my knowledge of Indigenous affairs, in particular, the Stolen Generation, was limited at best.
Since then I’ve learnt much about Australia’s First Peoples, the struggles they’ve faced, and their current struggle to close the gap in health, education and employment.
For me reconciliation is about sharing cultures, histories, listening and trading stories to understand where we’ve come from and better articulate where we want to go together.
Kevin Rudd’s National Apology in 2008 was a huge step towards reconciliation, but much remains to be done. My hope is that reconciliation one day forms the basis of an important chapter in Australia’s history, and together we can focus our efforts on progressing towards a brighter future for all.
I believe education is paramount for Australia’s Indigenous people and will have a positive systemic influence on a range of social factors. Leading Indigenous identities and politicians also have a vital role to play in advocating for what is best for Australia’s Indigenous peoples.