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Tuesday, January 27, 1998

People could not wait to say sorry

Hazel Hawke and Bryce Courtenay sign one of the books. Photo by SAHLAN HAYES


While John Howard won't say it on behalf of the nation, hundreds of Sydneysiders could not wait until after an official launch of a "Sorry Book" yesterday before apologising to indigenous Aborigines.

Australia Day revellers were so taken with the chance to say sorry for injustices wrought on Aborigines, they forced organisers of Australians for Native Title preparing an official launch to open the books four hours before the planned midday ceremony.

Organisers estimate more than 5,000 people signed the books at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Opera House throughout the day.

The books say: "By signing my name in this book, I record my deep regret for the injustices suffered by indigenous Australians as a result of European settlement and, in particular, I offer my personal apology for the hurt and harm caused by the forced removal of children from their families."

Author Bryce Courtenay and Heritage Council chair Mrs Hazel Hawke launched the ceremony.

"For all of those things that my forefathers did," Mr Courtenay said, "I wish to say a single, an abject, a total, an unreserved, an unrevokable apology to those people who have suffered at the hands of other Australians."

Mrs Hawke said: "It is, I believe, impossible for us even to imagine the wound, and the despair of our children being stolen ... it is unthinkable ... What happened was triggered out of fear, ignorance and greed."

Tony Shelton from Annandale wrote: "On behalf of my family I'm truly sorry."

He said the real reason he wanted to sign the book was because the Prime Minister, Mr Howard, had not made any formal apology.

"That's forced the Australian public to think about it more," he said.

Monica and Terry Leach, from Nelson, in Sydney's north-west, said they and their children wanted to show the Prime Minister that the average Australian wanted a collective acknowledgement of what had happened.

"Although we can't change the circumstances of what happened, to say we're sorry helps with the healing, the grieving," Mrs Leach said.

The books are available to be signed in Sydney for the next two weeks at North Sydney Council, Waverley Council and Leichhardt Council.

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