Indigenous voices

Sorry Day by Vicki Roach

Australia! Oh forgetful nation
Went and lost a whole generation
Where oh where could those people be?
Where did you put those Aborigine?

Those ones you stole
From their sacred ground
You know you put ’em somewhere
But oh where can they be found?

Wait! There’s one now
Hiding behind that tree
You better lock him up
Maybe throw away the key

And what about his mum aye
And where the hell’s his dad
And why is that one there
Walkin’ ’round alone and sad

It’s coz you went and lost us all
You sick and sorry fools
You lost us in your foster homes
Your missions and your schools

You scattered us from one end
Of this wide, brown land to the other
And took us from our mums and dads
Our sisters and our brothers

But you’re sorry now I hear you say
You didn’t mean to lose us
You even made a Sorry Day
And think that that excuses

As if for your crimes that atones
And makes it all right
A day of being sorry
We were black instead of white

I reckon we’ll just grab our lap-tops
And take our mobile phones
And take your education
And find our own way home

Found at

australia day versus invasion day

This article was written for The Australian ahead of Australia Day last year (2012)


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January 26 the only day to celebrate, understand, mourn by Bob Carr

1788: The arrival of civilisation in Australia.

MICK Dodson invites us – civilly and without a trace of anger – to open a conversation about January 26. It’s an indigenous perspective one can grasp immediately.

Aborigines lived here undisturbed for maybe 60,000 years, until one particular January 26 began their dispossession, and the lesser-known story of their resistance. It has always been my view, though, that we can make this part of the commemoration. After all Anzac Day recalls a tragedy, yet is part of our big story. And we remember it with respect, nonetheless.

Why is January 26 worth celebrating? There are many reasons.

Pass quickly over the astonishing achievement of Arthur Phillip. His 11 small vessels left England in May, 1787, crowded with about 1000 people, among them more than 700 convicts. They set a record in the number of vessels, the number of passengers and the distance covered. Never before had so many sailed so far.

But it might be more useful to focus on the notions they unloaded with them.

Some might think old-fashioned Manning Clark’s opening line that civilisation arrived in Australian in 1788. Still, in a land that had only seen hunter-gatherer cultures the arrival of the First Fleet was the start of settled communities on the Australian continent: buildings, bridges, villages, towns. It also brought the application of British common law to Australia and, eventually, government through parliament where, to be truthful, there had been only tribal systems and cycles of warfare. It brought a written language. Fortunate to be begun as an English settlement, too, because a revolution in England 100 years earlier – 1688 – had resulted in new constitutional arrangements to check the power of executive government. Out of English ideas and notions we acquired, in fits and starts, the institutions of a free society.

First there was an independent judiciary, in 1823. Trial by jury started in 1830. We fought for and won an elected legislative assembly in 1856. (Remember, though, that women could not vote until 1902 and Aborigines were excluded until 1968.) Free election of governments began in 1856 with the NSW Legislative Assembly, and it has been like that ever since. No coups, no street battles, no barricades, no guillotines. We are one of a handful of old, long-run democracies. This is part of the Australian achievement, our genius for a civilisation that quietly and decently works for its people.

You can trace it back to the long-cherished traditions brought by the sore and weary travellers who straggled out of long boats into eucalyptus forest that January, 221 years ago. They were ideas that eventually offered some justice to Aborigines.

In 1838, Judge Burton found seven white men guilty of the murder, at Myall Creek, of 28Aboriginal men, women and children.

The perpetrators were hanged.

In 1992 the High Court of Australia ruled in the Mabo case that native title over land exists, thus ending for all time the cruel doctrine of terra nullius, that the land was empty.

We should approach Australia Day, to understand, celebrate, commemorate and, yes, mourn, our nation’s history in its entirety.

But most are unlikely to accept it should become a day of apology. Instinctively we want to honour our achievements as a nation.

We should tell again the many stories that make up our history: that of the Aborigine, the convict, the governor, the soldier, the settler, the freed convict, the housemaid, the rouseabout, the migrant, the refugee.

Aboriginal Australia has in the past claimed January 26 as survival day – no, put that in capitals: Survival Day. It is the day indigenous Australians say that in spite of losing their land, in the face of shooting and exploitation and disease and alcohol they, a determined, resilient people, survived these 221 years.

Survived against the odds. And, on the day that marks the beginning of their dispossession, they boldly celebrate their survival, their culture, their achievements and their qualities as a people.

There is the unrivalled Aboriginal knowledge of the land, its plants, animals, climates, landscapes. There is Aboriginal art; some say, the best Australian modern art. There is their dance and music and their very character, especially their humour. And there is their contribution as teachers, doctors, athletes, tradesmen, soldiers, stockmen, farmers and public servants. They are a great part of our big story. They have a right to their pride, and their anger, and their grief. But we would be wrong to romanticise pre-1788 Australia. For Aboriginal women, especially, modern Australia offers a freedom that hunter-gatherer Australia never could.

For them and all of us, however, there is no alternative to January 26. Sure, January 1 is the anniversary of Federation in 1901 – but it is in the middle of the Australian Christmas break; a time absorbed with family matters, and an escape from civic activity. And likewise, it cannot be Anzac Day, since that day belongs to those who fought and died in wars, from the Sudan to Vietnam. The dawn service and the march should not be subsumed in any alternative celebration.

This leaves January 26, the day the whole brave, self-mocking, patient, largely successful exercise in nation-building began. It is the one day that speaks of all that happened, the good and bad, the inspiring and shaming. The story of us all. There is no alternative. And it is altogether appropriate. Let us put all reservations behind us.

Well used, it will tell future generations what really happened: the brutality, the heroism, the tenderness, the patience. It will teach the humility as well as pride.

Advance the Australian fair go and its inevitable symbol, Australia Day. There is no other day that says it all.

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