Grandmothers Against Removals (GMAR) and USyd Womens’ Collective held a Sorry Day rally in Town Hall today, protesting the removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities by the Department of Social Services.
The rally was chaired by SRC Women’s Officer Kimmy Dibben and GMAR organiser Aunty Gwenda Stanley. Yvonne Weldon, chair of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Council, and candidate for Sydney Lord Mayor gave an Acknowledgement to Country. Weldon spoke to the importance of centering Indigenous voices in the fight against removals, proclaiming that “we, the first people, are the answers to the questions, we are our own solutions.”
Dibben addressed the inadequacy of Kevin Rudd’s 2008 apology to Indigenous communities, pointing out that “First Nations children are still being snatched from their homes by social services at an even higher rate than before Rudd’s empty apology.”
Dibben read out a statement from GMAR organiser Helen Eason, who was in Gunnedah supporting an Indigenous family impacted by a death in police custody. “This is yet another death caused by the filthy antics, use of force, and abuse of power that police officers use in our country,” the statement read. “It is a shame our people are being murdered on our land”. Eason called out for solidarity and support from non-Indigenous communities. “We can’t do it alone. Please stand with us together, because together we are stronger”.
Aunty Gwenda addressed the disparities between Australian support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and movements against Black deaths in Australia, stating that “last year you took to the streets for one man murdered in America. From March 2021 ‘til last week we had nine deaths in custody in this country and no one stood up”. Stanley’s repeated declarations of “Stolen land, stolen lives, stolen wealth” rang through Town Hall.
Erin O’Leary, Dhungutti woman and student activist, spoke on the intergenerational nature of the trauma suffered through the removal of First Nations children. “We need to break this cycle of abuse and trauma, and most importantly the system that perpetuates it.”
“Healing and action is not something that is going to be provided by this government. It is something we deserve and it’s something that we’re going to take”.
Aunty Rita Shillingsworth gave an account of her experience of being removed from her family as a child: “I didn’t know the Aboriginal culture, I learned the whitefella’s way, never got an education… it comes down to the hurt, seeing what our grandkids are going through.”
“We’re sick of fighting. We just want our people back. Our kids. Because they’re going to put us in our graves,” said Aunty Rita.
The congregation marched to the Department of Social Services office on Elizabeth Street, bringing with them their solidarity, anger, and grief.