Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture

The Apology, 10 years on 2008 - 2018

23 Feb 2018

A personal reflection from Sarah Stitt, member of staff at ACC&C.

The “Festival of Deadly Ideas” began on Saturday 10 February with a gathering in the Chapel at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture.  The people gathered came to listen to three speakers about their experiences of being a part of, or children of parents from, the Stolen Generations.  This event was the first of three that took place to commemorate 10 years since the Apology, and was a part of the Stolen Generation project ‘Heal the People – Heal the Nation’.

(Postcard by Luke Marsh)

The three presenters who shared their experiences were Dr Jackie Huggins Co-chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples; Laniyuk Garcon, author and Judith Kelly, the organiser of this occasion. The gathering was small, but as some say, those who are there, are meant to be there.

Jackie is a Bidjara (central Queensland) and Birri-Gubba Juru (North Queensland) woman. She is a celebrated historian and author who has worked in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs for over 30 years. Throughout her career she has played a leading role in reconciliation, literacy, women’s issues and social justice.

Jackie shared with us her mother’s story and in turn her story of the impact of being the daughter of a child stolen from her family. She also told us about the Congress which is represented equally by women and men with Jackie and Rod Little as co-chairs; progress that has been made over the past 10 years; and some ideas about what we, Australia as a nation, have to do now. I think that from Jackie’s story the overwhelming message is about listening we all need to listen to each other and our First Nation’s peoples.

Laniyuk was born of a French mother and a Larrakia father.  As a writer, her work often reflects the intersection of her cross cultural and queer identity. She was a contributor to the book Colouring the Rainbow: Blak Queer and Trans Perspectives and won the Indigenous residency for Canberra's Noted Writers Festival 2017. She recently received a residency through Overland for her poetry and short memoir. Laniyuk currently lives in Melbourne.

What was for me striking about Laniyuk’s story is that from 10 years of age to about 18 Laniyuk changed her name so as not to identify as Aboriginal.  In her young years she learnt that having this identity was ‘bad’, and because of her looks, she could get away with not being marked as Aboriginal, so she sought to distance herself from this as a form of self-protection.  Later, when she realised that she also identified as queer she was able to accept her Aboriginality, which brought her back to her father’s family. It has been a rewarding journey for her. Through her writing she can express what this is like, and be a voice for her people.  Laniyuk read two of her poems, the first of which she wrote for her cousin who died of a drug overdose.  The poem was filled with many questions and of the guilt of not being there, and not asking those questions.

Judith (pictured) is a Stolen Generation Yamatji woman from WA. She is a storyteller, actor, songwriter and singer. She is also an activist for Stolen Generation and Aboriginal justice. Judith shared her story of adoption as a baby, not knowing of her aboriginality until she was seven in 1967, her formative years with traumatic experiences impacting her progress, until more recently when she has been able to meet her birth family.  She shared with us her journey to be in Canberra for the Apology, and how she has been here since.

I think that for those who did come to this occasion that they welcomed the opportunity to hear these stories first hand; to take this with them and think more about what we can all do to bring about positive change for our nation and all the people who live here together.