Wuchopperen Commemorates National Sorry Day and Referendum Day

Wuchopperen Health Service Limited commemorated Referendum Day, and the 20th anniversary of Sorry Day, with a special event held on Monday 28 May.

The event featured presentations by Wuchopperen Wellbeing Worker Denise Hansell, Link Up (Qld) and Stolen Generations survivor Aunty Dulcie.

Wuchopperen Chairperson Donnella Mills said commemorating Sorry Day helped Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reconcile the past.

‘National Sorry Day (26 May) remembers and recognises our Stolen Generations, and was a key recommendation in the landmark Bringing Them Home report which was released in 1997. The first National Sorry Day was held in 1998 and it’s an honour to continue to commemorate this event 20 years down the track.

‘When we commemorate Sorry Day we are remembering modern Australian history. The Bringing Them Home report notes:

Indigenous children have been forcibly removed from their families and communities since the very first days of the European occupation of Australia. In that time, not one Indigenous family has escaped the effects. Most families have been affected in one or more generations by the removal of one or more children. Nationally… between one in three and one in ten Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and communities between 1910 and 1970.

‘These policies had a devastating effect on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander  individuals, families and communities, and many of the challenges Indigenous people face today can be traced back to these policies.

Survivors remember…

We may go home, but we cannot relive our childhoods. We may reunite with our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, communities, but we cannot relive the 20, 30, 40 years that we spent without their love and care, and they cannot undo the grief and mourning they felt when we were separated from them. We can go home to ourselves as Aboriginals, but this does not erase the attacks inflicted on our hearts, minds, bodies and souls, by caretakers who thought their mission was to eliminate us as Aboriginals.

We were transferred to the State Children’s Orphanage in 1958. Olive [aged 6 weeks] was taken elsewhere — Mr L telling me several days later that she was admitted to hospital where she died from meningitis. In 1984, assisted by Link Up (Qld), my sister Judy discovered that Olive had not died but rather had been fostered. Her name was changed.

So the next thing I remember was that they took us from there and we went to the hospital and I kept asking – because the children were screaming and the little brothers and sisters were just babies of course, and I couldn’t move, they were all around me, around my neck and legs, yelling and screaming. I was all upset and I didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know where we were going. I just thought: well, they’re police, they must know what they’re doing.

‘To support members of the Stolen Generations and their families, Wuchopperen employs a specialised Wellbeing Worker to help them on their healing journey. We see this as critically important work.’

Referendum Day (27 May) marks the anniversary of the historic 1967 Referendum which enabled Aboriginal people to be included in the Census and for the Commonwealth government to make laws for them regardless of where they resided.

‘The Referendum, which was a major turning point in Indigenous affairs in this country, is well within living memory for many of us, and marks a real shift in terms of respect, recognition and rights,’ Donnella said.

‘It helped us take our rightful place in the modern Australian story. In reference to the Referendum, the Parliament of Australia notes:

Perhaps the main achievement was to raise the expectations of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people regarding Aboriginal rights and welfare. (It) signalled a general shift in the way that Australian governments approached Indigenous issues, away from assimilationist policies towards policies based around self-determination, reconciliation and, more recently, Closing the Gap.’

Image L-R: Aunty Evelyn, Aunty Maureen, Aunty Dulcie, Wuchopperen Chairperson Donnella Mills