'Genocide' apology provokes public outcry in 1995

Controversy surrounded the commemoration in 1995 of the 225th anniversary of Lieutenant James Cook's landing at Kurnell.

Local Indigenous elders were distressed at the prospect of the $16 million replica of the Endeavour sailing through the heads of Botany Bay, and threatened a protest.

At the same time, Sutherland Shire Mayor Genevieve Rankin planned to offer an apology on behalf of the council for "genocide" committed by early European settlers.

The plan provoked a public outcry, and, as a result, Cr Rankin delivered only a personal apology at the commemoration ceremony.

"So today, as my personal gesture, I am offering my own apology for the attempted genocide and dispossession of Australia's indigenous people," Cr Rankin said.

NSW Governor Rear Admiral Peter Sinclair, who also attended the ceremony, "perhaps calmed the troubled waters", Leader reporter Graham Davis wrote.

"By the sands of time, it was inevitable that Australia would have been settled by one of the colonial powers," the Governor said.

"We could well have been under the control of the French or the Spanish."

Rear Admiral Sinclair said Cook was "a man of peace".

"He was a naval officer, who never commanded a ship of war," he said.

The Leader report said, while the commemoration was a time of celebration for some, for the Aboriginal community it was "a time of regret".

"We are not celebrating here today," said Aboriginal leader Les Davison.

"At La Perouse, we are lowering our flag and throwing a wreath into the water."

Demonstrations and a feared boycott of the commemoration did not occur, but some Kurnell residents protested over aircraft noise.

Three years later, National Sorry Day was initiated, with ceremonies held at Kurnell and other locations around Australia.

The community inspired event was held on May 26, 1998, the first anniversary of the tabling in Federal Parliament of the Bringing Them Home report on the inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children from their families.

The Howard government was prepared to express "deep and sincere regret" over the past treatment of indigenous Australians, but rejected Labor calls for an unreserved apology.

At the Kurnell ceremony, supported by the state Labor government, it was revealed moves were under way to rename Botany Bay National Park to recognise the traditional owners.

National Parks and Wildlife Service and local Aboriginal groups negotiated the change, which was finalised in 2002, with the park becoming officially known as Kamay Botany Bay National Park.

Kamay was the name by which Aborigines knew the bay before Cook called it Stingray Harbour and it was later changed to Botany Bay.

In following years, the council and Indigenous leaders also negotiated renaming and re-focusing the commemoration of Cook's arrival at Kurnell. It became The Meeting of Two Cultures, which is held annually.

In 2008, Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised in Parliament for the past actions of governments.

"Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history," Mr Rudd said.

"We reflect on their past mistreatment.

"We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation's history.

"The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia's history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

"We apologise for the laws and policies of successive parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

"We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

"For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

"To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

"And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry."


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