Exactly 10 years ago, on February 13, 2008, Aunty Rhonda Collard-Spratt was in Canberra.
Sitting in the public gallery at Parliament House, she witnessed the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologise to all Indigenous Australians and the Stolen Generations for the 'profound grief, suffering and loss' caused by previous governments.
For Aunty Rhonda, who was taken from her Aboriginal family at the age of three, the apology holds special significance.
“It was amazing to see a Prime Minister who had the guts and courage to apologise for past policies which had a tremendous effect on our people,” she said.
“The trauma still lives with us today and what you suffer as a child stays with you forever.
“The emotional wounds take forever to heal, but the apology was a stepping stone in my healing process, and my sister’s (Debbie) as well because she was only a baby when she was taken.”
The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) marked the 10-year anniversary of this key moment in Australian history by hosting a National Apology event at its Springfield campus today.
Community representatives and students from Hymba Yumba Community Hub joined USQ staff and students to reflect on the injustices of the past and commit to a renewed and continuing journey towards reconciliation.
The event included a viewing of Kevin Rudd’s historic apology to Australia’s First Peoples while special guest Aunty Rhonda spoke about life as a mission child of the Stolen Generations, growing up on Carnarvon Native Mission in Western Australia.
Aunty Rhonda, a Yamatji and Noongar woman who now lives in Ipswich, reinforced the importance of the apology, and its part in the journey towards healing, in an impassioned speech to the crowd gathered in the auditorium.
“We are only here on the strength of our ancestors; we are standing on their shoulders so we need to thank them for our survival today,” she said.
“We all belong to this land and we all need to find our voice and speak out because our ancestors don’t want us to be silent.
“They would want us to find the strength and courage to speak the truth, but speak from a place of courage and wisdom, not anger.”
Head of USQ’s College for Indigenous Studies, Education and Research (CISER) Professor Tracey Bunda said events such as the National Apology, National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC week benefit the entire Australian community.
“They give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people a voice, and give non-Indigenous Australians an opportunity to become informed and educated on key issues,” she said.
“Ten years on from the apology, Australia is still coming to terms with parts of its history.
“It’s together, at events such as this, that we can foster the types of conversations that we need to have before we can properly move forward together as one nation.”
Aunty Rhonda Collard-Spratt speaking at USQ Springfield.