Sydney, Feb.13 : Aboriginal leaders who gathered in Australian capital Canberra on Wednesday to hear Prime Minister Kevin Rudds's apology to the "Stolen Generations", reacted with joy and relief at the long-overdue event.
The Sydney Morning Herald and other Australian dailies quoted Aboriginal actor and television personality, Ernie Dingo, as saying that it was a day for rejoicing. Other Aboriginal leaders described the day and event as a day of healing.
"(It is) a chance to rejoice, rebirth ... knowing that what has happened over the last 80 years has not been swept under the carpet," Dingo said.
Dingo, who watched the apology from within the parliamentary chamber, said the event had a special significance for Aboriginal women.
"It gave the women and mothers a chance to say: 'Right, that's done.'A lot of these Aboriginal women are going to walk out of here 10 feet tall [with] a lot less weight on their shoulders because of what's happened today. The apology would allow the Aboriginal people, like a patient recovering from surgery, to heal. The operation is over and you're on the recovery table now and you will be getting better," Dingo said, adding that he was yet to absorb the enormity of the event.
The co-chairwoman of the Stolen Generation Alliance, Christine King, said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's apology had marked an important first step in what would be a long journey towards healing for Aboriginal people.
"This has been a journey of all our people, so all voices have to be heard, all pain has to be acknowledged, all grief has to be shared and this is the way forward."
Acknowledging the wrongs of the past offered a way forward for the future, Ms King said.
"If we can get it right for our older people we can get it right for the future and we can have hope," King said in Canberra.
"I can be at peace now because I will have heard this in my lifetime and that's so important," she said.
Fellow member of the Stolen Generation Alliance Brian Butler said the word "sorry" would mean a lot of things to a lot of people.
"I think that, as a result of the apology, we can feel that we are part of Australia. We are part of society," he said.
Aboriginal leader and a member of the stolen generations Lowitja O'Donohue praised the Prime Minister's apology.
"It was wonderful, just magnificent," the first chairwoman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission said.
However Brendan Nelson's, speech was "spoilt" by his attempts to justify the previous government's Northern Territory intervention.
"There are many people here who are hurting because of the Northern Territory intervention and there was no need for that," Dr O'Donaghue said.
David Page, 46, composer with the indigenous dance group Bangarra Dance Theatre in Sydney, said he liked the fact that Rudd had made a personal apology.
"It was very moving to see a prime minister with a bit of heart. I loved it when he said he was sorry. There was just something personal about it. It's very hard for a prime minister to be personal," he said.
Enid Williams, 72, who was brought up on a mission in Warrabinda in north Queensland after her father was forcibly removed from his family, said she was happy with Rudd's speech, but said it was now important to look to the future.
Michael Kirby, 36, a resident of Waterloo who grew up in rural NSW and whose father had been removed from Swan Hill to be raised at the Kitchener Boys Home, said he was pleased with the turnout at the community centre.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, an entire day of activities has been planned at the community centre, including an afternoon smoking ceremony, repetitions of the speech and a barbecue.