The didge faded and the cleansing smoke was still hanging in the air.
She walked to the lectern and started to speak.
‘‘I remember when they took me.’’
There was silence.
‘‘My brother Alf, who was a few years older, and I were walking along the riverbank when a car pulled up and the driver asked if we were all right.
‘‘Alf optimistically replied that he was hungry, and before we knew it we were in the car on our way to the police station.
‘‘The terror of not knowing what would happen would never leave me.
‘‘We were locked in a cell and fed through the bars.
‘‘No-one explained why we were there and we were just sent on a train to what would be our homes for all of our childhood.
‘‘I was taken to the Cootamundra Girls’ Home and I still remember Alf’s screams when we separated.’’
The words were powerful, the story shocking.
It was a story repeated across our country time and time again.
It was the story of being stolen — of being taken.
For no reason other than that they were Aboriginal.
Taken with the sanction of government policies — policies designed to break up families, to provide domestic servants for white families.
In other words — for slavery.
We were at Shepparton’s annual Apology Breakfast to honour the members of the Stolen Generations.
To witness that this had happened and that it was wrong.
‘‘These are the words of my grandmother, Theresa Donaczy nee Kirby.
‘‘Her, along with many other people around the country were victims of the Stolen Generations.
‘‘The reason we are meeting here today is to honour those that were affected by this awful time in our country’s past.’’
Ebony Joachim — guest speaker at this year’s Apology Breakfast — stood proud as she shared a personal story.
A story of her family and her community.
It is a story of great pain and suffering, but also a story of resilience, determination and pride.
As Ebony continued, ‘‘We’re in a time now where we can take the lead on the preservation of our culture.
‘‘It is our obligation to do this because it’s what our ancestors fought for.
‘‘We wouldn’t be where we are today without them, and we definitely would not have the opportunities we do today if it wasn’t for all the hard work they put in for us.’’
A clear determination and responsibility to stay strong within culture: to continue to nurture, protect and celebrate it; to take up the baton of the ancestors.
So what of the wider community for we have responsibilities as well?
As City of Greater Shepparton Mayor Kim O’Keeffe so clearly pointed out, we have a responsibility to learn.
To learn about how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples successfully inhabited this continent for more than 50000 years.
To learn about their complex systems of society, government and law.
To learn about their deep understanding of the seasons, environment and management of the land.
But to also learn about the many massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait peoples.
And to learn about the deliberate government policies that allowed the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander infants and children, such as Theresa and her brother Alf — Ebony’s grandmother and her great-uncle — from their families and communities.
While mainstream Australia is not responsible for what happened as part of history, it is important that Australia acknowledges and accepts accountability for what happens today, tomorrow and in the future.
We must learn from the past and listen, acknowledge, respect and act to redress the imbalance in Aboriginal communities that has resulted from white privilege and previous racist policies.
So explore the full history of our country and, by doing so, build a deeper understanding and respect for Aboriginal people and their culture — the oldest continuing culture on the planet.
To find out more about the Stolen Generations, visit: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/publications/bringing-them-home-report-1997 and https://healingfoundation.org.au/
Read the book Black Emu by Bruce Pascoe to find out more about pre-colonial management of land and resources.