Importance of recognising & acknowledging National Sorry Day

In Australia, National Sorry Day holds great significance as a moment of reflection, empathy, and healing for the historical injustices endured by the Indigenous peoples. This annual observance provides an opportunity to acknowledge the pain and suffering caused by past government policies and actions, and to pave the way for reconciliation and understanding. Recognising Australia’s National Sorry Day is not only important for the Indigenous community, but for all Australians committed to building a more inclusive and reconciled society.

Teachers and educators play important a role in helping children to grow up with a fuller understanding of the different histories and cultures experienced by
the peoples of this country.

The first National Sorry Day was held on 26 May 1998, one year after the Bringing Them Home report was tabled in Parliament. The Bringing Them Home report is a result of a Government Inquiry into the past policies which caused children to be removed from their families and communities in the 20th century.

Australia’s National Sorry Day primarily commemorates the Stolen Generations—the Indigenous children forcibly removed from their families between the late 1800s and the 1970s. Recognising this dark chapter in Australia’s history is crucial to confront the pain and trauma experienced by those affected and their families. It serves as a reminder of the ongoing intergenerational impact and the urgent need for healing and redress.

By recognising National Sorry Day, we take a significant step towards fostering reconciliation. It’s an opportunity to acknowledge the wrongs of the past, express genuine remorse, and demonstrate a commitment to building a future based on respect, equality, and understanding. Through this acknowledgement, we contribute to the process of healing and strengthening the bonds between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

National Sorry Day serves as a catalyst for empathy and understanding among Australians. It encourages us to listen to the stories and experiences of the Stolen Generations, deepening our awareness of the profound injustices they endured. By recognising their pain and validating their experiences, we can cultivate empathy and develop a greater understanding of the ongoing struggles faced by Indigenous communities.

Recognising National Sorry Day is an active step towards promoting social change. It encourages individuals, communities, and institutions to reflect on their role in addressing the impacts of colonisation and systemic injustices faced by Indigenous peoples. Through education, advocacy, and genuine engagement, we can work towards dismantling barriers, challenging discriminatory practices, and creating a more inclusive society for all Australians.

Australia’s National Sorry Day provides a significant opportunity to reflect on the painful chapters of our history and work towards healing, understanding, and reconciliation. By recognising this important day, we can collectively acknowledge the injustices of the past, foster empathy and understanding, and actively contribute to building a more inclusive and compassionate society. Let us embrace National Sorry Day as a vital step forward on the path towards healing and reconciliation for all Australians.

Ways to recognise National Sorry Day in your organisation:

  • Consider including information on National Sorry Day as part of the opening of your National Sorry Day event (after the Welcome to Country or Acknowledgement of Country).
  • You might, as appropriate, incorporate a number of commemorative components into your National Sorry Day events that would aid in the process of healing and rapprochement. Examples include:
  • Play the Nomad Apology clip (It’s time), a powerful clip, that will help motivate and inspire those in attendance;
  • ‘Smoking Ceremony’, in order to cleanse the area and harmonise the energy of everyone present. This should be led by a locally respected and appropriate local Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community member;
  • A flag raising ceremony (to either full or half-mast), where the Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, and the Australian Flags are raised, to show the respect that the event has for all Australian peoples;
  • Play some of the Stolen Generations music and songs with messages of healing recommended later in this resource (e.g., Archie Roach’s ‘Took the Children Away’) and encourage your students to develop a dance or performance to convey the meaning;
  • Read Archie Roach’s book ‘Took the Children Away’ and have a discussion with children about the story, how people may have felt in different parts of the book;
  • A minute’s silence, to remember the Stolen Generations;

More information & resources:

  • The Teaching about the Stolen Generations fact sheet was developed by Narragunnawali and provides guidelines to support and assist teachers in teaching about the Stolen Generations in a respectful and appropriate way. 
  • Healing Foundation: Stolen Generations Resource Kit for Students and Teachers. Includes survivors stories, lesson plans for years F – 9 and a Home Learning Kit.
  • Reconciliation Australia:The official website of Reconciliation Australia offers information about National Sorry Day, including its significance, history, and events.
  • In response to the first recommendation of the Bringing them Home report, the National Library of Australia conducted the Bringing them Home Oral History Project. The Bringing Them Home Oral History Project ran from 1998 to 2002 and served to collect and preserve the stories of Indigenous people and others, such as missionaries, police and administrators involved in or affected by the process of child removals.
  • National Museum of Australia: ‘Bringing them home’ 2008: National apology to the Stolen Generations” – Digital Classroom Resource
  • Watch the Apology by the then Prime Minister, Hon. Kevin Rudd

We acknowledge and pay our respects to the people of the Bundjalung Nation, the Traditional Custodians of the beautiful land and waterways on which we live and work.

Always was. Always will be Aboriginal land.