AUSTRALIA: Universities join Parliament in apology

Universities across Australia joined with the national Parliament last Wednesday in formally apologising to the nation’s indigenous people for the past wrongs committed against them and, in particular, for the forcible removal of Aboriginal children from their parents – children who became known as the Stolen Generations.

In an historic day in Canberra, the new Labor government of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and the Opposition jointly delivered a formal apology to all indigenous people, using the word “sorry”. It is an expression that has special resonance in Aboriginal culture but which former conservative Prime Minister John Howard had steadfastly refused to say.

University of Melbourne vice-chancellor Professor Glyn Davis, a former colleague of Rudd, released the university’s own apology to coincide with that of the Parliament’s, as did other vice-chancellors around the country.

“The University of Melbourne, established on the traditional land of the Kulin nation, is a community that aspires to participate in the creation of a diverse and harmonious nation. Our aim is to bring greater benefits to the indigenous people of Australia through education and research, and to do so by involving indigenous people in those endeavours,” Davis said.

On behalf of the University of Melbourne, Davis said he acknowledged the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the original inhabitants of the continent; their loss of land, children, health and kin, the erosion of their languages, culture and lore, and the manifold impacts of colonisation.

He also noted that Australia would only become a mature nation when the past was acknowledged, so that the present could be understood and the future confidently based on the mutual recognition of aspirations and rights.

“The university records its deep regrets for the injustices suffered by the indigenous people of Australia as a result of European settlement,” David said. “On behalf of the University of Melbourne, I join with other Australians, led by the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, to say a heartfelt ‘sorry’ to the Stolen Generations and their families and to all indigenous Australians who have suffered the hurt and harm caused by the forced removal of children and families and its effect on the human dignity and spirit of indigenous Australians.

“The university also acknowledges and sincerely regrets any past wrongs carried out in the name of the university which have caused distress to indigenous Australians. The university is committed to using the expertise and resources of its teaching and learning, research and knowledge transfer activities to make a sustained contribution to lifting the health, education and living standards of indigenous Australians.

“As an institution we aim to produce the highest quality outcomes in all aspects of our academic endeavour – from the recruitment and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students to building our cohort of indigenous academic and professional staff. To this end we hope to contribute to realising indigenous aspirations and safe-guarding the ancient and rich Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage.

“The university joins with all Australians who see in Parliament’s recognition and apology a decisive moment in our nation’s progress. In justice is the hope of reconciliation, in acknowledging the past the hope of the future.”