Uncle John Browne at a Sorry Day Event held in Adelaide

In 1997, the Bringing them Home Report, the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from Their Families was released. The Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, who tabled the report to parliament said,

“This report is a tribute to the strength and struggles of many thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people affected by forcible removal. We acknowledge the hardships they endured and the sacrifices they made. We remember and lament all the children who will never come home.”

One of the recommendations was a National Apology, which the then Prime Minister John Howard did not provide (eventually the National Apology was provided by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on 13 February 2008), despite this in 1998 on the 26 of May, the first National Sorry Day was held.

Since then, National Sorry Day has been an annual event, to help raise awareness about the Stolen Generation, the Bringing Them Home Report and community events that are often held to support the community. One such event is held by the Journey of Healing SA Inc., which is chaired by Larrakia man Uncle John Browne, who was sent from Darwin under the Assimilation Program of the 1960s to go to school in Adelaide.

Mr. Browne says he

“was born in Alice Springs although my Mother came from Darwin. I am one of the Aboriginal Stolen Generations from the Northern Territory”, telling Reconciliation SA that he has “since established myself permanently in Adelaide”.

Mr. Browne, the eldest of 9 brothers and 4 sisters, has a varied, yet impressive work history which includes a stint working for well-known Aboriginal activist “Charlie Perkins, among working for the Government and the University of South Australia”.

His education is just as impressive, with Mr. Browne possessing a Master’s Degree in Social Work and a Postgraduate in Management. A great achievement considering he has his own, large family, revealing that he has four daughters all born in Adelaide, all with their own impressive work histories as a nurse, another a lawyer, another a real estate agent, and one a flight attendant.

Uncle John explains that he joined the Journey of Healing SA Inc, “because I feel for the Stolen Generation, I feel their hurt and their Loss from their families”. He explains that the event that the Journey of Healing SA Inc., would normally plan, but cannot in 2020 due to the pandemic, “presents performances and various stalls showcasing what we mean by Sorry Day, to exhibit the continuing effects of removal on Aboriginal families.” The event also brings “people together who have been stolen to meet with the public to bring healing.”

Members of the Stolen Generation also share their stories with the wider community so that the public can empathize with some of the pain and suffering, other community members will also recount various Homes in SA to which Indigenous children were removed from their families.

Mr. Browne says that on National Sorry Day, the Indigenous Elders of the Stolen Generations “will be given special treatment with a tent of their own, but the Indigenous community and other Stolen Generation members will have tents to display their wares, commodities, old photos, posters and other items.”

The successful event has had 28 stalls in the last five years who provide free services to the Stolen Generations of South Australia at the National event in Victoria Square.

Mr. Browne, recounting the establishment of National Sorry Day, says,

“the actual event was forecasted in the ‘Bringing them Home Report’ of 1997, recommendations, where it was handed down from Federal Parliament. The National Sorry Day in the early days was a National Sorry Day Organisation.  South Australia has carried the traditions since. Most states still have a National Sorry Day each year.”

But continuing the tradition of commemorating National Sorry Day is not the sole purpose of Journey of Healing SA Inc., Mr. Browne, sharing it is other functions, says, that the organisation also helps:

  • Assist the Stolen Generation to come to terms with their grief and hurt through various programs and support counseling.
  • The Stolen Generation in South Australia to reconnect their Cultural identity.
  • Educate the young Aboriginal people to understand what has been happening in their own families.

And,

  • Attempts to dissipate the effects of a powerless people who suffer from degradation, forceful removal families, and Hurt and assist with rebuilding their cultural identity, their history, and their freedom.

As Chairman of the Journey of Healing SA Inc., Uncle John explains that there are also other achievements that are being pursued. The journey of Healing SA Inc. encourages “Aboriginal people to achieve stability in the Aboriginal community which has been torn apart by the Authorities, forcefully removing Aboriginal Children for their families with little or consultation or advice.” The journey of Healing SA Inc. also wants to tackle the effects of that removal in order to bring peace to the community.

An impassioned Mr. Browne declares that at the Journey of Healing

“we encourage Aboriginal people to work together and go through a healing process so that they can be healed and move on in their lives eventually. This is a long process and the track is tough going for many of us.”

Mr. Browne says that

“the Journey of healing SA Inc., has many facets, but it is important to realize that the removal caused and destroyed the Aboriginal community and widened the gap between the Majority race in Australia to the point of blatant racism in this country and the horrendous effects of that.”