Sydney, Feb.13 : Australia on Wednesday formally apologized to the "Stolen Generations" of Aborigines with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd reading out a speech in the Federal Parliament in Canberra.
The apology was read out precisely from 9 a.m., as the first action of the second sitting day of the 42nd Parliament of Australia.
Rudd and Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin received a standing ovation as they entered the Great Hall before the speech.
The 361-word apology was completed in three minutes and was watched by hundreds of parliamentarians, former prime ministers and representatives of the indigenous community.
Former prime ministers Paul Keating, Bob Hawke, Gough Whitlam and Malcolm Fraser and Sir William Deane were all seated on the floor of the Parliament as well as 17 people representing the stolen generation, major Australian dailies reported.
In another address that was read immediately after the apology, Rudd spoke of removing a "stain from the soul of Australia".
"The time has come, well and truly come ... for all Australians, those who are indigenous and those who are not to come together, truly reconcile and together build a truly great nation," he said.
The Prime Minister also discussed the first-hand accounts in the Keating government-sponsored report titled "Bringing Them Home".
"There is something terribly primal about these first-hand accounts. The pain is searing, it screams from the pages - the hurt, the humiliation, the degradation and the sheer brutality of the act of physically separating a mother from her children is a deep assault on our senses and on our most elemental sense of humanity. These stories cry out to be heard, they cry out for an apology. Instead from the nation's Parliament there has been a stony and stubborn and deafening silence for more than a decade," Rudd said.. Rudd concluded his speech at 9.28 a.m., and was greeted by loud and lasting applause by both sides of the house.
He reached across the house's table and shook the hand of Opposition Leader Brendan Nelson before returning to the front bench, where he himself applauded.
Dr Nelson also delivered a speech in support of the apology.
"We will be at our best today, and every day, if we call to place ourselves in the shoes of others, imbued with the imaginative capacity to see this issue through their eyes with decency and respect. We cannot from the comfort of the 21st century begin to imagine what they overcame, indigenous and non-indigenous to give us what we have and make us who we are," he said.
"In saying we are sorry, and deeply sorry, we remind ourselves that each generation lives in ignorance of the long-term consequences of its actions," he added.
After Rudds's speech, all MPs stood except for the Liberal MP Chris Pearce. Pearce did stand after Dr Nelson's speech. Liberal MPs Wilson Tuckey and Don Randall were not in the chamber.
People watching in the Great Hall turned their backs during Dr Nelson's speech.
Former Prime Minister Paul Keating's government was responsible for commissioning a report into the stolen generations which focused on possible processes of compensation.
Today, Keating told ABC Radio that words were more important than money.
At Sydney's Redfern Community Centre, Rudd's apology and speech received a standing ovation from residents, workers, families, students and Sydney's Lord Mayor Clover Moore. All braved the rain to watch the speech via a large outdoor screen.
At Martin Place in Sydney, hundreds of Sydneysiders from all walks of life gathered to watch the Sorry Day celebrations holding Australian, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
Men and women in business suits, schoolchildren and other passers-by of all different backgrounds cried, smiled and stood in respect as they listened to Rudd apologize.
In Canberra, thousands assembled on a lawn in front of Parliament House to watch the apology on a big screen. Rudd mentioned sorry three times in his address, and each one of them was greeted with a loud applause and cheering.
Aboriginal flags and Australian flags dotted the skyline, and as Rudd closed his address, the crowd rose to their feet in applause. Many cried, while others smiled or quietly acknowledged the timing of the apology.