Sorry Day protests removal of Aboriginal children

Protesters at Sorry Day in Melbourne. Photo: Ronny Kareni.

Aboriginal people and their supporters took to the streets on National Sorry Day on May 26 to protest against government departments taking Aboriginal children from their families. Actions took place in 15 towns and cities around the country.

The rally in Sydney was organised by Grandmothers Against Removals, Indigenous Social Justice Association and the Stop The Intervention Collective Sydney.

Sorry Day is commemorated on May 26 because that is the anniversary of the release of the Bringing Them Home report in 1997. The report revealed the horrors of the assimilation policy enacted against Aboriginal people and uncovered the extent of stolen generations of the past century.

Organisers of the rally said in a statement: “Bringing Them Home also sounded the alarm that an unacceptable number of Aboriginal children were still being removed by child welfare agencies. Driving these removals is the entrenched poverty faced by communities ...

“Since then, the number of our children being removed has exploded — from 2785 in 1997 to 13,914 last year. In NSW, 10% of Aboriginal children are in 'out of home care'. Across the country, it is almost 6% of Aboriginal children, more than 10 times the non-Indigenous rate, and the figure is rising every year.

“Removals that are happening now are no different to those in the 20th century. Police are regularly sent with weapons to rip our children away. Mothers who fight back are jailed. Babies are taken from their mothers at birth. Some children in remote communities are placed on aircraft and flown hundreds, or even thousands of kilometres away from their families to be placed with non-Aboriginal carers.”

About 100 people rallied outside the Department of Family and Community Services in Sydney. Speakers were those who had suffered as children, or whose children had been taken from them.

Uncle Albert chaired the rally and said: “This office came and removed my child. They call it a lucky country, but for native people, this country is very restricted. We are protesting because DoCS has been taking our children.”

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge told the rally: “This is a united day of action to bring people home, but also to put meat on the bones of the word sorry. Since the Bringing Them Home report there has been a nominal commitment that they would never do it again. But the stolen generation never stopped in 1997 when the report was released.

“From 1997 till now the number of Aboriginal kids put in state care has had a five-fold increase. They are removing kids at a greater rate than the peak of assimilation policy in the 40s, 50s. It's an indictment that I am the only MP here. No one else is willing to confront this.”

After the rally several Aboriginal activists occupied the Redfern block and established an Aboriginal tent embassy, demanding public housing for Aboriginal people be rebuilt in the area where it was torn down.