Hundreds turned out to hear local Yorta Yorta man Paul Briggs OAM reflect on his own experiences as an Aboriginal, as well as highlighting the ongoing disadvantages still impacting indigenous communities across Greater Shepparton and Australia as a whole.
Greater Shepparton Mayor Cr Dinny Adem was honoured to speak at this morning's breakfast. Cr Adem used the opportunity to express his own feelings on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology on behalf of the nation, and how it didn't go far enough.
Below is Cr Adem's speech in full.
Mayor Cr Dinny Adem - Greater Shepparton City Council
February 12 2016, Queens Gardens, Shepparton.
We, Greater Shepparton City Council, acknowledge the traditional owners of the land which now comprises Greater Shepparton. We pay respect to their tribal elders, we celebrate their continuing culture and we acknowledge the memory of their ancestors.
Today marks the anniversary of the one of the most significant days in the 70,000 year history of our indigenous Australians.
He delivered an apology which acknowledged the wrongs of the past, and promised hope for the future.
He spoke of the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that had inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on our fellow Australians.
He spoke of the pain, suffering and hurt of the stolen Generations, their descendants and of the pain and suffering of the families left behind.
He also spoke of the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture.
He very succinctly expressed what was the past, but Kevin Rudd also laid claim to a future, that his Parliament on that day resolved that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.
A commitment to a future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.
I commend and congratulate Kevin Rudd for his courage in speaking those heartfelt words, as it was indeed a statement for the ages, a true acknowledgement of the past, accompanied with a genuine hope for the future.
A veritable new dawn in this country’s history.
However, I do believe there was one key acknowledgment missing on that day.
The acknowledgment that the precious life giving spirit of the Aboriginal Australian people, was a major casualty of white settlement, this spirit which was born in the dreamtime, was trampled on, then sucked from their bodies thus creating a near vacuum, a vacuum where pride and hope struggled to exist.
How could it? How could there be hope of genuine equality, when a human being was not even considered as such. Where (in the eyes of the Australian aborigine) an illegitimate invader, after 200 odd years, still could not legitimize (within their own laws) the original inhabitants of this land.
At worst we had ignored, and at best we had only tolerated a culture that is, and a people that are, the true spirit of this land.
This spirit I speak of, had been the driving force, the very essence that underpinned the world’s oldest continuing culture, but until this day in 2008, had no real hope of ever being rekindled.
I use the word rekindled, as the spirit of our indigenous people was never really extinguished. It may have been severely crushed, but an eternal flicker has always been there, just waiting, waiting for fellow humans to recognize and acknowledge the injustices perpetrated against other fellow humans.
I believe the hopeful future Mr Rudd spoke of is very much achievable, as the apology can only empower our indigenous people.
It will restore their pride by knowing they are no longer considered just an environmental casualty of Empire building, but real human victims of these practices of the past.
I believe the "apology" can fan the embers of this life spirit into a roaring flame, that once again will guide and embellish, not only the lives of our Aboriginal people but the lives and culture of Australia as a whole.
I do believe this is now happening, albeit slowly, but for it to happen more rapidly, all Australians must commit to recognize, celebrate and immerse themselves in this 70.000 year old spirit that has so well preserved this great land, for all of us to live and prosper in now.
I encourage everyone here today to remember and reflect on the past, never, never to forget it, but also not to dwell on this pain and suffering, to the extent that it may sentence future generations to a life of chronic resentment, rather to harness the empowering words of the Apology, and celebrate this day as one of hope, inspiration, and motivation, so all indigenous Australians may look forward to a much brighter future, one bathed in the light of equality for all Australians.
Enjoy this momentous day, and thank you for listening.