Blog: National Sorry Day - healing and reconciliation

May 26, 2016
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Every year the Prime Minister reports on our progress towards Closing the Gap between health, education and other outcomes of Indigenous Australians and our community as a whole.

This year I wanted to open the speech in the language of the Ngunawal people on whose land our Parliament has been built and in doing so pay respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

That was the first time a Prime Minister had spoken in an Aboriginal language in the Parliament.

Finding those words was not easy. The Ngunawal language and many other Aboriginal languages have been almost lost, with only fragments remaining to be refound and restored, reuniting Aboriginal people, and all Australians, with the most ancient human culture.

I sought the help of the Bell family and their Ngunawal language group in Canberra. They have recovered enough language to write children's and other short books in Ngunawal.

 


One of those remnants was a lullaby an old Aboriginal woman remembered more than a hundred years ago.

Midu wuli burin gabul nurl - the mother's lullaby for her baby.

This is some of what the old lady remembered:

Nudula nindi wurula bulu i bulu gun wurula bulu nura dula...nuru wurula guni
I am rocking you slowly skyward...swinging

It is heartbreaking to read those words, to speak them, knowing that a little baby was rocked to sleep by a mother who wanted no more than that her baby should be safe, comforted with a lullaby in her own tongue.

But that little baby was far from safe, nor was her mother, nor the language in which she sang.

The loss of language was more than a loss words, it was a loss of knowledge. Knowledge of culture, knowledge of traditions, knowledge of family and kinship.

"Once that language was taken away, we lost a part of that very soul. It meant our culture was gone, our family was gone, everything that was dear to us was gone"
'Fiona', Bringing Them Home Report.

Kevin Rudd acknowledged this grief and loss in the National Apology to the stolen generations on 13 February 2008, and we continue to make amends. Recognising our First Australians in the Constitution will be an important next step for our nation.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians continue to demonstrate their resilience and determination to heal. In 2005, 'Sorry Day' was renamed our 'National Day of Healing'.

Healing together as a nation depends on all of us.

Our commitment to healing includes protecting the Indigenous languages that remain, and giving them their best chance of survival and revival.

That is why this year I committed additional funding to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) to ensure all Australians continue to have access to their vital cultural collection.

There are over one million items in AIATSIS's collection including 120,000 items of published materials, 670,000 photographs of Indigenous Australians and some 39,000 hours of audio tapes.

AIATSIS' Australian Indigenous Languages Collection is listed on the UNESCO Australian Memory of the World Register.

Out of those records we see and hear the most ancient culture of our most ancient land. Too much has been lost and what has been saved has been caught just in time. We must cherish it.

On this day - Our National Day of Healing - and every day, I call on all Australians to acknowledge what was lost, and work together in a spirit of reconciliation based on mutual respect.

With optimism and hope, made real by hard work and commitment, we walk together in healing and in reconciliation.

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