Acknowledging the anguish of those we forgot
- This is the speech given by Labor MP and Punch contributor Richard Marles this afternoon on the Forgotten Australians. The Punch will run some of the MPs’ addresses this week.
Today we have heard just a few of the half a million stories of the Forgotten Australians, each as sad and as powerful as the last. Collectively they represent a well of pain and a great wrong which today our nation acknowledged.
Among those are the stories of the co-founders of Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) - Joanna Penglase and Leonie Sheedy. These two were the driving force behind the original Senate inquiry. They have been the driving force behind the National Apology.
Their shoulders have provided support for a multitude of Forgotten Australians. Their ears have heard a thousand stories and in the process provided relief. They are great Australians.
They are an example of a truth that I have come to learn in my work with CLAN. That Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants as a people, who have overcome the greatest adversity at the outset of their lives, are a determined and courageous people. And in all that is done today it is so important that we honour and celebrate this fact. Because the Forgotten Australians and the Child Migrants are wonderful Australians and our country is much the richer for their being among us.
I have spoken with many Forgotten Australians over the last few weeks about today’s Apology. The way in which Forgotten Australians deal with their childhood experience naturally varies.
For some it is a weeping sore carried into adult life. Many talk of feeling ashamed of their childhood; of feeling embarrassed to tell their story. For these people this Apology has not come a day too soon.
For others they have buried their childhood deep inside. And they particularly have said to me that they feel unexpectedly emotional about the Apology. While they believe it to be a greatly important national act it is also an act that comes with much pain.
In all cases it has been impossible to talk to the Forgotten Australians about the Apology without tears. In every case people talk of this day as being a new beginning.
And so to those Forgotten Australians who feel shame, all of us say to you that you do not deserve to feel shame. The shame has been upon your nation and today it is acknowledged.
To those who feel embarrassed to tell your story, all of us say to you that your story – good and bad – now forms a part of the nation’s story – good and bad.
And to those for whom this day opens a door into a painful part of their heart it is vital that all Australians – in the weeks, months and years to come – stand shoulder to shoulder with you to help the healing.
To all the Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants: for all the embraces not given in your childhoods, today – with all its inadequacies and failings and in the knowledge that what was taken away can never be given back – is given, with the deepest sincerity of heart, an embrace at last by your country.
Today we say to the Forgotten Australians and Child Migrants: we won’t forget what you have suffered. As a nation we are sorry. And what you have endured is no longer a dark secret but a period of history on record for all Australians to remember.
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