The Story of Sorry

Kevin Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations yesterday was profound, and very moving.  I think it was also notable that the centrepiece of it was a story.  Just one story, of a single person’s experiences.  Yet this was a powerful way of making the speech something more than platitudes.  It showed a willingness to listen, and to attempt to understand, the experiences inflicted upon our indigenous people by authorities until as recently as the early 1970s.

The speech was attended by all but one of the five living former Australian Prime Ministers.


The Games was a satirical program shown on ABC TV in Australia in two series in 1998 and 2000.  It was written by John Clarke, Ross Stevenson and others.  Episode 3 of Series 2 (3 July 2000) was significant in that it included the following “Apology from John Howard”. 

While the program was satirical, this particular speech was in its own way moving, and almost as profound.  It was read by the Australian actor John Howard, and can currently be seen on YouTube here.  A full copy of the episode script is here

I am not the only one to remember this now – it has been re-quoted in a few Australian news outlets in the last few days as well.  One of them even included the words that accompanied the original transcript of the speech on the ABC web site: “Any other John Howard who wishes to make this announcement should apply for copyright permission here, which will be granted immediately.”

An apology from John Howard

Good evening.  My name is John Howard and I’m speaking to you from Sydney, Australia, host city of the year 2000 Olympic Games.  At this important time, and in an atmosphere of international goodwill and national pride, we here in Australia – all of us – would like to make a statement before all nations. 

Australia, like many countries in the new world, is intensely proud of what it has achieved in the past 200 years.  We are a vibrant and resourceful people.  We share a freedom born in the abundance of nature, the richness of the earth, the bounty of the sea.  We are the world’s biggest island.  We have the world’s longest coastline.  We have more animal species than any other country.  Two thirds of the world’s bird species are native to Australia.  We are one of the few countries on earth with our own sky.  We are a fabric woven of many colours and it is this that gives us our strength.

However, these achievements have come at great cost. 

We have been here for 200 years but before that, there was a people living here.  For 40,000 years they lived in a perfect balance with the land.  There were many Aboriginal nations, just as there were many Indian nations in North America and across Canada, as there were many Maori tribes in New Zealand and Incan and Mayan peoples in South America.  These indigenous Australians lived in areas as different from one another as Scotland is from Ethiopia.  They lived in an area the size of Western Europe.  They didn’t even share a common language.  Yet they had their own laws, their own beliefs, their own ways of understanding.

We destroyed this world. 

We often did not mean to do it.  Our forebears, fighting to establish themselves in what they saw as a harsh environment, were creating a national economy.  But the Aboriginal world was decimated.  A pattern of disease and dispossession was established.  Alcohol was introduced.  Social and racial differences were allowed to become fault-lines.  Aboriginal families were broken up.  Sadly, Aboriginal health and education are responsibilities we have still yet to address successfully.

I speak for all Australians in expressing a profound sorrow to the Aboriginal people.  I am sorry.  We are sorry. 

Let the world know and understand, that it is with this sorrow, that we as a nation will grow and seek a better, a fairer and a wiser future.  Thank you.

One comment

  1. Just thinking about the opposition leader’s response to the Kevin Rudd speech. He also used stories, but he used (from memory) about three stories. In my opinion, using just one central story probably had more impact. We also find out later that one of the stories was used out of context, and without the permission of the person at the centre of the story.

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