THE Hunter’s Indigenous leaders have praised the National Apology to the Stolen Generations as an “enormous feat”, while lamenting the lack of progress in the past decade to close the gap.
Newcastle City Council raised the Aboriginal flag in Civic Park on Tuesday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologising on behalf of the country for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and for government actions that inflicted suffering.
About 50 people gathered to hear from Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, Awabakal Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Rob Russell and Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council chief executive Andrew Smith.
Cr Nelmes said February 13 was a date that “must never be forgotten”.
“I don’t think we can underestimate what an enormous feat it was by Kevin Rudd to get up in front of all of Australia and all the world to say sorry 10 years ago today,” Mr Russell said.
“Unfortunately… when you look at the lack of achievement by governments – in making reparations for the harm that’s been done, for the outrageous historical trauma that they’ve caused and continue to cause today – they need to give themselves an uppercut and say ‘We could have done much more and we’ve done basically bugger-all except for talk about it’.
“The time for talking was over a long, long time ago.”
Mr Smith said the apology was a “great step towards real reconciliation” and had “opened eyes to the real history of black Australia” but hadn’t “delivered on outcomes it was designed to achieve”.
The 10th annual Closing the Gap progress report tabled on Monday showed only three of seven targets were on track.
Mr Russell said he wanted to see an Indigenous voice in Parliament.
“There’s been some movements forward in terms of education but next is health, housing and employment – they’re inseparable,” he said.
“But if they don’t have an Aboriginal voice helping them it’s just top down government.”
Kamilaroi woman Jamaya Wightman, 22, said it was an “honour” to help raise the flag.
Ms Wightman grew up in Boggabilla and said Indigenous people needed more access to healthcare and education so the next generation, including her one year old daughter Khaleesi, could have a better life.
“Most people don’t have the opportunities to leave small country towns, but I had to leave because there weren’t opportunities back home,” she said.
“In cities there’s good stuff but there’s not much help being put back into small country towns, especially where I’m from.
“I went to a small school and don’t feel my education was what I wish it could have been if I went to school here. I want my daughter to have the opportunities I did not have.”
Apprentice painter and Bundjalung man Mark Walker, 20, said the ceremony was an opportunity to “bring everyone together” and catch up with his family.
He said the apology was “recognition after 200 years”.
“It was a big lift and made everyone feel a bit better,” he said.
“A little bit has changed since then but we still have a long way to go. We’re slowly getting there.”
Cr Nelmes said the council had a Reconciliation Action Plan and a 1998 Commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Newcastle policy.
The city celebrated in August last year the 40th anniversary of former Lord Mayor Joy Cummings’ decision to be the country’s first council to fly the Aboriginal flag from a civic building.