Our nation, Australia, has reached such a time.
That is why the parliament is today here assembled: to deal with this unfinished business of the nation, to remove a great stain from the nations soul and, in a true spirit of reconciliation, to open a new chapter in the history of this great land, Australia.
Last year I made a commitment to the Australian people that if we formed the next government of the Commonwealth we would in parliament say sorry to the stolen generations.
Today I honour that commitment.
I said we would do so early in the life of the new parliament.
Again, today I honour that commitment by doing so at the commencement of this the 42nd parliament of the Commonwealth.
Because the time has come, well and truly come, for all peoples of our great country, for all citizens of our great commonwealth, for all Australians – those who are indigenous and those who are not – to come together to reconcile and together build a new future for our nation.
Some have asked, Why apologise?
Let me begin to answer by telling the parliament just a little of one person’s story – an elegant, eloquent and wonderful woman in her 80s, full of life, full of funny stories, despite what has happened in her life’s journey, a woman who has travelled a long way to be with us today, a member of the stolen generation who shared some of her story with me when I called around to see her just a few days ago.
Nanna Nungala Fejo, as she prefers to be called, was born in the late 1920s.
She remembers her earliest childhood days living with her family and her community in a bush camp just outside Tennant Creek.
She remembers the love and the warmth and the kinship of those days long ago, including traditional dancing around the camp fire at night.
She loved the dancing. She remembers once getting into strife when, as a four-year-old girl, she insisted on dancing with the male tribal elders rather than just sitting and watching the men, as the girls were supposed to do.
But then, sometime around 1932, when she was about four, she remembers the coming of the welfare men.
Her family had feared that day and had dug holes in the creek bank where the children could run and hide.
What they had not expected was that the white welfare men did not come alone. They brought a truck, two white men and an Aboriginal stockman on horseback cracking his stockwhip.
The kids were found; they ran for their mothers, screaming, but they could not get away. They were herded and piled onto the back of the truck. Tears flowing, her mum tried clinging to the sides of the truck as her children were taken away to the Bungalow in Alice, all in the name of protection.