National Apology Day in Australia is observed on February 13 every year in Australia. It is a national day commemorating the first-ever national apology made by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008 to initialize the Australian federal government’s rehabilitation, justice, and reconciliation agenda for the Indigenous Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, and the tens of thousands of Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed from their families during Australia’s assimilation era.
History of National Apology Day
National Apology Day remembers the official apology to the children and families traumatized by past forced child removal and assimilation government policies in 20th century Australia. Although somewhat related, this annual commemoration is quite different from the National Sorry Day, or the National Day of Healing, which is a national event that has been held every year in Australia on May 26 since 1998. National Sorry Day marks the initial tabling of the Bringing Them Home report in the Australian Parliament. The report was the result of a 1995 inquiry by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission into government policies and practices between 1910 and the 1970s, which forcefully separated many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, to assimilate them into white Australian culture.
The affected children, known as the ‘Stolen Generations’ — estimated to be 10% to 33% of all Indigenous children between 1910 and the 1970s — suffered significant abuse and trauma, as they had to live under harsh conditions and abusive treatment, and were compelled to reject their Indigenous heritage. Until today, many victims are still coming to terms with the trauma they experienced. The ‘Bringing Them Home’ report also made actionable recommendations for addressing past wrongs, including the issuance of formal apologies by state and federal governments, and the provision of funding to rehabilitate the victims.
While John Howard, the Prime Minister at the time, declined to apologize, his successor Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, subsequently issued a formal public apology on February 13, 2008, on behalf of the federal government for the policies which inflicted grief, suffering, and loss on the Stolen Generations. Both houses of parliament unanimously adopted the apology as a motion, and thousands of Australians who gathered in public spaces to hear the apology across the country reacted with cheers and tears.
National Apology Day timeline
‘Bringing them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families’ is presented in Parliament on May 26.
The First National Sorry Day is held in Australia on May 26 to mark the original tabling of the Bringing them Home report.
More than 250,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians walk across Sydney Harbour Bridge to protest the lack of a government apology to the Stolen Generations on May 28.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presents a Motion of Apology to Indigenous Australians on February 13.
National Apology Day FAQs
What is the purpose of National Apology Day?
National Apology Day provides an opportunity to seek healing and pursue reconciliation in Australia. Furthermore, it emphasizes the need to close the gap of discrimination, unjust treatment, racism, and abuse of human rights in Australia towards Indigenous citizens, families, and communities.
Who started National Apology Day?
The observance of this day started after Prime Minister Rudd moved a motion of apology to Indigenous Australians for past crimes committed against them by the government.
What is the difference between National Apology Day and National Sorry Day?
National Apology Day is observed on February 13 every year, and National Sorry Day is held on May 26 every year to mark the tabling of the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report.
How to Observe National Apology Day
Read about the history
Do some research into the traumatizing stories of the Indigenous children who were forcefully separated from their families and forced to live with strangers in foster homes and other institutions from 1910 to the 1970s in Australia. You’ll be able to empathize with the victims and share in their pain.
Celebrate distinguished Indigenous Australians
Today, there are many accomplished people of Aboriginal descent in various fields such as art, entertainment, sports, and academics, who have contributed immensely to the development of Australia. This day offers an ample opportunity to dig into their contributions and achievements, raise awareness about them, and inform the world about the ingenuity of these Indigenous Australians.
Speak up against discriminatory laws
All around the world today, there are still many laws and policies made by governments against the fundamental human rights of many disadvantaged peoples. National Apology Day is a great opportunity to raise awareness and speak against many of these abusive policies in an attempt to seek a fairer world for all.
5 Interesting Facts About Indigenous Australians
World’s oldest surviving culture
It is believed that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples date back between 50,000 to 65,000 years ago.
There were over 250 languages and 600 dialects spoken by all Indigenous groups in pre-colonial Australia, which has drastically dropped to 20 languages.
More than 400 Indigenous words
Australian English has borrowed about 400 words from various Indigenous languages — most of which are nouns like kangaroo, boomerang, wombat, kookaburra, koala, and barramundi.
3% of Australia’s population
While the Indigenous Australian population dwindled during colonization, the population started to recover in the early 1900s, and there were approximately 800,000 Indigenous people in Australia by 2011 — about 3.3% of the country’s total population.
A younger age profile
The Indigenous peoples have a much younger age profile than the non-First Nations population – with over 53% of Aboriginal people aged under 25.
Why National Apology Day is Important
It acknowledges discrimination
For so long, many surviving victims of the discriminatory child removal policies and other affected families sought acknowledgment, apology, and reparations from the government but were snubbed. Prime Minister Rudd’s motion for an apology was a significant turning point indicating that the Stolen Generations were unfairly treated and deserved a national apology.
It highlights the plight of the traumatized
The Bringing Them Home report highlighted the plight of the Indigenous families who were unjustly affected by abusive laws and government policies. The National Apology Day was the first step at making up for the hurt, abuse, and trauma the Stolen Generations and other affected parties experienced in 20th century Australia.
It seeks reconciliation
While it took almost ten years before the Australian government officially issued a national apology as recommended by the report, the apology signified the government’s readiness to make restitution and seek reconciliation. Although the harm cannot be totally undone, the government continues to make impactful efforts for rehabilitation and healing, especially with the Closing the Gap strategy, which aims “to achieve equality in health.”
National Apology Day dates