Dr Mariko Smith is a Yuin woman. She is a First Nations Assistant Curator at the Australian Museum and Honorary Associate in the School of Literature, Art and Media at the University of Sydney.
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Nyree (Ngari) Reynolds (born in Wollongong NSW, 1948) is a Wiradjuri artist and art tutor based in the Central West region of NSW. In describing her body of work, Nyree explains:
“As an Aboriginal woman of the Wiradjuri Nation I like to tell stories through my paintings. As part of my art practice I paint the Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generations blending into the landscape, their own Country from which they were removed. My hope is that when people view my work they will leave with a new understanding of people who have been taken away from their family, home and Country. That they are real people with real stories to be told. Then I know my painting narratives have achieved what I hoped they would.”
The vivid earthy tones depicting the landscape were achieved by Nyree applying red ochre that was obtained from the Mudgee district. The sand used in many of her paintings is from the Illawarra area, which represents a connection to her birthplace of Wollongong.
The painting titled Sorry was created in 2006, six years after Nyree participated in the Reconciliation Bridge Walk on 28th May 2000. This digital image has been collected by the Australian Museum in 2020.
The 2000 Walk for Reconciliation on Sydney Harbour Bridge
This event involved more than 250,000 people marching together across the Sydney Harbour Bridge over the course of nearly six hours to show their support for the concept of ‘reconciliation’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia.
In 2020, 20 years on from that famous demonstration of support, the question remains as to whether we are closer to a ‘reconciled’ Australia. In many ways, the initial acts of conciliation have not occurred, truth-telling about our history is still challenging for many, and the symbolism of reconciliation is arguably irreconcilable and incompatible with the actual track-record of action in improving race relations in this country.
Nevertheless, the impact of this event still resonates with Indigenous participants such as Wiradjuri artist Nyree (Ngari) Reynolds, who recalled:
The vision of that walk has never left me and I have painted Sorry on a few of my paintings. There was a plane flying above us all writing Sorry in the sky and I didn’t have my camera which disappointed me. But instead my mind became my camera and that vision will never be lost. Nyree (Ngari) Reynolds
The Federal Government’s Apology to the Stolen Generations in 2008
In 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally apologised on the behalf of the Australian Federal Government to First Nations communities for the injustices of the Stolen Generations, following decades of resistance within government to make a formal apology. His speech acknowledged and recognised the trauma caused by the implementation of government-sanctioned child removal policies, but did not go much further than this acknowledgement and recognition in terms of actually establishing avenues of compensation to communities.
The characterisation of Stolen Generations as an occurrence of the past and previous government administration is seriously flawed and continues the inter-generational trauma still present in communities. The Apology did not sufficiently address any contemporary social issues caused by the Stolen Generations.
Stolen Generations Still Continuing After 2008 Apology
Sorry means that you don’t do it again. Since Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian Federal Government in 2008, there are still Stolen Generations in the present day. In fact, the rates of First Nations child removal from their families have increased since the 2008 Apology - the number had doubled, with 17,664 First Nation children in out-of-home care in 2016-17.
First Nations children are primarily removed under a construct of neglect, which aimed to rationalise the claim that since they were considered most at risk of having their basic physical and emotional needs not met in the First Nations family unit, being removed and placed in the care of white carers was ultimately for the children’s own ‘protection’. In contrast, non-Indigenous children are primarily removed for physical or sexual abuse. The problem with the ‘neglect’ reasoning is that it is a broad-sweeping and often subjective assessment which has been used discriminatively against First Nations families.
 Australian Parliament House [n.d], Apology to Australia’s Indigenous Peoples. [online] Available at: https://www.aph.gov.au/Visit_Parliament/Whats_On/Exhibitions/Custom_Media/Apology_to_Australias_Indigenous_Peoples
 Behrendt, L., 2016. Indigenous Kids Are Still Being Removed From Their Families, More Than Ever before. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/commentisfree/2016/feb/13/eight-years-after-the-apology-indigenous-kids-are-still-being-removed-from-their-families
 Wahlquist, C., 2018. Indigenous Children In Care Doubled Since Stolen Generations Apology. [online] The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/jan/25/indigenous-children-in-care-doubled-since-stolen-generations-apology