Sorry Day: “I don’t want to stand here in 10 years-time doing the same thing”

24 May 2024

Disclaimer: Readers please be advised this article mentions the historical and ongoing Stolen Generations, Aboriginal children being taken from their families and contains images of First Nations people who have passed away.

Sorry Day May 26th, a day where every single year families in our communities feel hurt, pain, anger and grief. 

In Australia, as of June 2022, around 19,400 First Nations kids were under the control of the child protection system. This is more fittingly referred to as the ‘Family Policing System’ by ACT Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Vanessa Turnball Roberts.

My father Neville Austin is a member of the Stolen Generation, alongside many deeply respected members of our community both past and present, including Uncle Archie Roach, Aunty Eunice Wright and Uncle Kutcha Edwards. All these people individually and collectively shared their stories of pain, suffering, loss and survival to the world, with a demand for the Stolen Generations to never happen again. 

My Father and my Aunty Lyn Austin organised the first Sorry Day rally 24 years ago in the year 2000. Marching through rain flooded streets of Melbourne, laying white flowers on the steps of parliament for the mothers who had their babies stolen.

Watch the 40min original VCR our family has of the first Sorry Day rally organised by my father Neville Austin and my Aunty Lyn Austin, 24 years ago in Naarm.

When myself and my siblings were kids, we repeatedly watched over the footage of the rally which had been given to us on a video tape. As I sit here writing and reflecting, I am drawn back to watching the footage, which we have since had transferred from the original VCR. 

Over two decades have passed and I am not drawn back to watching the footage in the setting of contrasting how shocking things were in the year 2000 for First Nations children to how greater things are now in the year 2024, because that is not the truth of the narrative our people are living right now. I am drawn back to being reminded of the unfinished business and the obligation we have to continue the messaging that is so clearly articulated through the speeches and the banners captured on the footage.

My father speaks emotionally into the microphone and says “I don’t want to stand here in 10 years-time doing the same thing, we are here to protect our children, for the future and we are here to acknowledge the past”. 

My father, demanding "I don't want to be here in another 10yrs, doing the same thing..."

Sorry Day Rally: My father, demanding “I don’t want to be here in another 10yrs, doing the same thing…”

It is gut-wrenching that 24 years later we are seeing the highest ever number of First Nations children being removed by state and territory government services. Removals commonly initiated by mandated reporters in social services, including family violence services, doctors, nurses, housing workers, education and child care systems – the list goes on. 

The mandated reporting system is complex, yet simple. Each professional making the report is making it based on the white terms of reference of how a child in Australia should be presenting before them. That professional is influenced by their own personal worldview and most likely withholds the vision mirroring the roots of the child rescue movement which I write in-depth about in ‘Our Kids Belong with Family’, completely naive to the long-term, intergenerational impact that begins with their decision to make a report, ultimately just ticking the box. 

The conscious and unconscious bias that exists through mandated reporting needs to be investigated across the entire country, it is a link to the chain of the removal of First Nations children that is out of sight out of mind. This system is haunted and guided by its sins and ghosts of the past, and yet built to do exactly what it is doing.

Mandated reporters, you’re on notice, we see your racism. Child protection workers, you are not rescuing our babies from harm, you are removing them from family, kin, culture and placing them in a toxic wildfire, placing a permanent scar on their little hearts and wearied but strong spirits. 

What our communities are facing now are the exact actions the Australian Government apologized for in 2008. ‘Past Injustices’ was a frequent term used in the national apology to the Stolen Generation. Perhaps the most terrifying thing,  from the apology we learnt that the government has the ability to name the injustices, name the actions, explain the hurt and pain removal of children has on the child and the child’s family and within that ‘knowing’ they’ve continued removing our children, making the term ‘past injustices’ hollow and their current actions premeditated.  

Last year Victoria’s Yoorook Justice Commission prioritised investigating the child protection and youth justice systems, with over 50 witnesses taking to the stand giving evidence, myself included. The Yoorook Justice Commission swiftly released an interim report, following the year-long inquiry. Yoorook heard extensive evidence about topics such as ‘how discriminatory attitudes in universal services such as health can lead to unnecessary reports to child protection’ and evidence in understanding that once a child is removed from their family, the strict time limits for family reunification operates unfairly for Aboriginal parents.

These truth-tellings are fundamental in understanding the depth of current injustices inflicted and through listening to the community members sharing their stories, we are all bearing witness to the heartbeat of child protection’s discriminatory policies and practices, which they allege are in the past.

In 2011 my father was the first member of the Stolen Generation in Victoria to receive a formal letter of apology from the Victorian State Government. This apology became trivial to our family when our fathers’ grandchildren were removed from his daughter and placed under the control of the very same system that allegedly said sorry. 

Despite the children being returned to her care, the intergenerational pain and suffering is palpable in our family. 

There is nothing to have a cup of tea and cake for on Sorry Day in 2024. 

No one has a cup and tea and cake in the trenches of a national crisis, unless of course that national crisis is one that only impacts First Nations children, mothers, families and broader Blak communities. Having a cuppa and cake on Sorry Day only symbolises a country that celebrates the genocide it continues to commit every single day.

My father and Aunty Lyn marched 24 years ago for the future of their children, now their own children are marching and their grandchildren are marching too. The fight is never forgotten until finished in Blak communities. 

Sorry Day Rally: Aunty Lyn

Sorry Day Rally: Aunty Lyn, calling out the John Howard Government

The work of Yoorook is ground breaking and between the Bringing Them Home Report, The Yoorook for Justice Report, the stories and songs written by artists such as Archie Roach and Kutcha Edwards and the work of grassroots groups including Grandmothers Against Removals, the answers and recommendations are all out there. 

The Bringing Them Home Report (1997) demands ‘the human rights of Indigenous children will be ensured’. Yoorook For Justice (27 years later) is demanding the Victorian Government ‘significantly upscale’ capability, competence, and support in relation to human rights including but not limited to the child protection system, ensuring they carry out their obligation under the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (Vic). Yoorook further recommended ‘public authorities are held accountable for acting or making decisions incompatibly with human rights including Aboriginal cultural rights’.  

All we need now is a country that loves our existence enough to stop killing us and that values our babies enough to stop destroying their lives, our lives. 

My dad was right 24 years ago, when he said our babies are our future. I only hope my children aren’t referencing this article in 24 years time for the same fight.

I end with a suggestion that you listen to a song which Uncle Kutcha Edwards shared with the world in 2007. The album titled ‘Hope’ and a song titled ‘Is this what we deserve’ sings;

Your laws are so unjustified, 

Our basic human rights have been denied, 

You come up with excuses, that your hands are tied, 

But you go on committing genocide


But we’ll just keep on trying

While our boorais they just keep on crying

And sadly our people they just keep on dying

While you, you just keep on lying


Is this what we deserve? Is this what we deserve?


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