National Sorry Day

National Sorry Day, or the National Day of Healing, is an annual event that has been held in Australia on 26 May since 1998. The event remembers and commemorates the mistreatment of the country's Indigenous peoples as part of an ongoing process of reconciliation between the Indigenous peoples of Australia and the settler population.

National Sorry Day
Lord Mayor's National Sorry Day Celebration 2016 King George Square Brisbane P1440424.jpg
2016 National Sorry Day event in Brisbane
Also calledSorry Day
Observed by Australia
SignificanceRemember and commemorate the mistreatment of Australia's indigenous population
Date26 May
Next time26 May 2023 (2023-05-26)
First time26 May 1998 (1998-05-26)

The first National Sorry Day was held on the one-year anniversary of the 1997 Bringing Them Home report.[1] A key recommendation of the Report was a formal apology to the Stolen Generations. John Howard, who was prime minister at the time, refused to issue an apology, but Kevin Rudd on 13 February 2008 issued a formal apology on behalf of the government and Australian people.

The ReportEdit

The Bringing Them Home report, which was tabled in Australian Parliament, was the result of an inquiry into government policies and practices during the 20th century that caused Aboriginal children to be separated from their families, with the intention of assimilating them into white Australian culture. This resulted in what became known as the "Stolen Generations", with the effects of these traumatic removals being felt by succeeding generations even today. The report made 54 recommendations, including that state and federal governments should issue formal apologies and that funding should be provided to help deal with the consequences of the policies. The report also addressed contemporary separations, noting that Indigenous youth are still removed from their communities – through the justice system, institutions, welfare and adoption system.[2]

Background and historyEdit

An older Indigenous protest day is the Day of Mourning, which originated in 1938, focusing on civil rights for Aboriginal people.[3]

On 26 May 1997, Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was tabled in Parliament. Among its many recommendations was one that the Prime Minister apologise to the Stolen Generations.[4] Prime Minister John Howard refused to do so, stating that he "did not subscribe to the black armband view of history".[5] The government policy of removing children from their families and placing them in care elsewhere was later described by American sociologist John Torpey as "Aboriginal children separated, often forcibly, from their families in the interest of turning them into white Australians".[6]

On 26 May 1998, the first National Sorry Day was held.[7]

On 26 August 1999, Prime Minister John Howard moved a Motion of Reconciliation, which included an expression of "deep and sincere regret that Indigenous Australians suffered injustices under the practices of past generations, and for the hurt and trauma that many Indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of those practices".[8] The opposition leader, Kim Beazley, moved to replace John Howard's motion of regret with an unreserved apology which was not successful.[9]

The annual commemorations are intended to raise awareness among politicians, policy makers, and the wider public about the forcible removal policies and their impact on the children who were taken, their families and their communities.

A commemorative poster from 2008

On 28 May 2000, more than 250,000 people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, participated in a walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge, organised by the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation to protest the lack of a government apology to Indigenous people, show solidarity and to raise public awareness of the issue.[7]

In 2005, the National Sorry Day Committee renamed the day as the National Day of Healing, with the motion tabled in Parliament by Senator Aden Ridgeway. In his words, "the day will focus on the healing needed throughout Australian society if we are to achieve reconciliation".[7]

On 13 February 2008, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd moved a motion of Apology to Indigenous Australians.[10] His apology was a formal apology on behalf of the successive parliaments and governments whose policies and laws "inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians".[7] The apology was the new parliament's first order of business; Rudd became the first Australian Prime Minister to publicly apologise to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian federal government. The apology was passed unanimously as a motion by both houses of parliament, as thousands of people gathered to hear the apology both in the Great Hall and outside Parliament House in Canberra and in large gatherings across the country, in schools, offices and public squares. Crying, cheering and clapping followed.[11]

Close the Gap and Closing the GapEdit

Close the Gap (CTG) is a social justice campaign focused on Indigenous health, in which "Australia's peak Indigenous and non-Indigenous health bodies, NGOs and human rights organisations are working together to achieve equality in health", whose Steering Committee first met in March 2006. Their campaign was launched in April 2007 by patrons Catherine Freeman OAM and Ian Thorpe OAM, launched the Campaign.[12]

The Australian government under Prime Minister Kevin Rudd adopted its goals in 2008,[7] in a strategy known as Closing the Gap.[13][7] and in 2009 committed to making an annual progress report to Parliament on progress with the Closing the Gap strategy.[12]

National Close the Gap Day (NCTGD) was run by Oxfam Australia for 10 years from 2009, mobilising hundreds of thousands of people across the country in support of Indigenous health equality. In January 2019, ANTaR (Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation) took over the reins.[14]

As of 2020 Close the Gap has produced 11 reports, including a 10-year review in 2018.[12]

See alsoEdit

Other countriesEdit


  1. ^ "National Sorry Day 2020". Reconciliation Australia. 25 May 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  2. ^ "Bringing them Home – Chapter 20 | Australian Human Rights Commission". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  3. ^ "1938 Day of Mourning – Aboriginal Civil Rights Protest". 29 February 2016. Archived from the original on 11 September 2016. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  4. ^ Beazley, Kim (25 May 2001). "Labor's Response to the Stolen Generation – Bringing Them Home Report". Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  5. ^ McKenna, Dr Mark (10 November 1997). "Different Perspectives on Black Armband History". Parliament of Australia Parliamentary Library. Retrieved 2 November 2006.
  6. ^ Torpey, John C. (2006). Making Whole What Has Been Smashed: On Reparations Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. p. 4. ISBN 9780674019430.
  7. ^ a b c d e f "Australia marks 20-year anniversary of Sorry Day". SBS News. 26 May 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  8. ^ "Motion of Reconciliation". Parliament of Australia. 26 August 1999. Retrieved 26 August 2017.
  9. ^ "House of representatives Hansard Thursday 26 August 1999". Parliament of Australia Hansard. 26 August 1999. p. 152. Retrieved 4 November 2006.
  10. ^ "Official Australian Government Website – Sorry Day and the Stolen Generation". Australian Government. Archived from the original on 12 May 2012. Retrieved 21 February 2012.
  11. ^ "The Apology: ABC News". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 16 February 2008. Archived from the original on 10 October 2010. Retrieved 11 September 2010.; "Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples". Australian Parliament. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2016.; Burgess, Matthew; Rennie, Reko (13 February 2008). "Tears in Melbourne as PM delivers apology". The Age. Retrieved 13 February 2008.; "Speech by Kevin Rudd to the Parliament: 13 February 2008". Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Archived from the original on 2 October 2008. Retrieved 21 November 2016.; "Thousands greet Stolen Generations apology". Australia: ABC News. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008.; "Cheers, tears as Rudd says 'sorry'". Australia: ABC News. 13 February 2008. Retrieved 16 April 2016.
  12. ^ a b c "Close the Gap: Indigenous Health Campaign". Australian Human Rights Commission. 18 March 2020. Retrieved 3 August 2020.   Text was copied from this source, which is available under a Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) licence. (Details here.)
  13. ^ "Closing the Gap". Australian Indigenous Health Infonet. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  14. ^ "National Close the Gap Day". Oxfam Australia. 15 November 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2020.

External linksEdit