Thousands have taken part in a National Sorry Day march in Canberra, in an attempt to improve the correctional system and acknowledge the mistreatment of Indigenous Australians.
It was 20 years ago that the landmark Bringing Them Home report was handed down — which detailed the trauma caused by the forced removal of Indigenous children because of the colour of their skin.
Those children became known as the Stolen Generations.
There are still concerns that many of the 54 recommendations of the report, as well as the dozens of addition appendixes, still have not been acted on two decades later.
Julie Tongs is the chief executive of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, and she has been the driving force of the Sorry Day bridge march in Canberra.
She told ABC Canberra the march had grown from between ten and fifteen people when it commenced six years ago, to the thousands who gathered this year.
“We can’t forget the past, and we never forget the past, because our past continues to come with us,” Ms Tongs said.
“We need to be able to move forward, and move forward together — days like today help us to do that.”
This year, there was also another theme for the commemorations, marking the death of Steven Freeman in custody, this time last year.
Ms Tongs said it was important to mark his life in this way.
“It’s 12 months since Steven died in custody; it’s very important to recognise his short life, but also to honour him,” she said.
“Hopefully Steven Freeman is going to be the person who changes the correctional system forever.”
The coronial inquest is set to continue hearing evidence at the end of August.
Hundreds of youths recognise National Sorry Day
There were hundreds of youths, from all parts of the Canberra community taking part in the march.
Ms Tongs said the broad cross-section of the community who gathered was incredibly important.
“We’re moving in to National Reconciliation Week,” she said.
“Days like today can tear a community apart or bring a community together.
“What we see today is the community being brought together.”
At a time when there is more and more discussion about recognising first Australians in the constitution, there are renewed calls to address racist components of the nation’s founding document.
“I just worry, will we get the same support we got back in ’67 — the elephant in the room is racism, it’s alive and well,” Julie Tongs said.
“We are a society that is aware of these sort of things, but not happy to use that term when it comes to Aboriginal people,” ANU College of Law senior lecturer Dr Asmi Wood said.
He added there needed to be serious consideration of what sort of change we could see in the constitution, and what any change would mean.
Next week marks the 50th anniversary of the most successful referendum in Australian history, to count Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as Australian citizens.