Blog, Politics

Welcome to Country and Apology: 2008 Australia

Parliament House, Canberra Photo: Robin Joyce
Parliament House, Canberra
Photo: Robin Joyce

Part 1.


The Whitlam Labor Government introduced the Racial Discrimination Act in Australia in 1975. However, acknowledgement of the particular role and explicit rights of the indigenous people specific indigenous ownership of the land and recognition of the stolen generations did not take place until 2008.

Welcome to country ceremony

In 2008, the first parliamentary acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples’ right to be an integral part of the parliamentary process was acknowledged when the welcome to country ceremony was held at the opening of the Australian Parliament. On that occasion Aboriginal people wore traditional dress, Indigenous music was played and ceremonial dances were held in the Great Hall.

Matilda House, Ngambri elder, in traditional dress and her familiar smile presented the Prime Minister with a message stick. She said:

A ‘Welcome to Country’ acknowledges our people and pays respect to our ancestors, the spirits who created the lands…. With this welcome comes a great symbolism. The hope of a united nation, through reconciliation we can join together the people of the oldest living culture in the world and with others who have come from all over the globe, and who continue to come. And together forging a united Australia so committed to succeeding that we will not be denied. Prime Minister, my grandchildren have handed you a gift, a message stick, a tangible symbol of today’s ceremony. The message stick, it’s a means of communication used by our peoples for thousands of years. They tell the story of our coming together. With this renewed hope and our pride, our strength is refreshed. Like our ancestors, we can reach new heights soaring on the wings of the eagles. Thank you very much, and welcome to the land of my ancestors. [1]

The ceremony is now performed at the opening of each parliament.

Forecourt parliament House, Canberra Photo: Robin Joyce
Forecourt parliament House, Canberra
Photo: Robin Joyce
Forecourt at Parliament House, Canberra Photo: Robin Joyce
Forecourt at Parliament House, Canberra
Photo: Robin Joyce


On the first sitting day of the newly elected Labor Government, the Australian Prime Minster, The Hon. Kevin Rudd, presented an apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples. The area in front of Parliament House overflowed with people acknowledging and celebrating the apology for mistreatment and, in particular, to the Stolen Generations. Around the House of Representatives galleries, Indigenous and white Australians held hands, cried, smiled and reveled in the long awaited apology.


Apology Transcript


The Speaker of the House (Hon Harry Jenkins MP): The Clerk.

The Clerk: Government business notice number 1, Motion offering an apology to Australia’s Indigenous peoples.

The Speaker: Prime Minister.

Prime Minister (Hon Kevin Rudd MP): Mr Speaker, I move:

That today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

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.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

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.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia. [2]


Parliament House, Canberra Photo: Robin Joyce

Parliament House, Canberra
Photo: Robin Joyce



[2] Hansard , Wednesday 13th February 2008, p. 167.

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