By KEA BROWNING
On Tuesday 26 May, students at Coonamble Public School commemorated National Sorry Day.
National Sorry Day has been held in Australia since 1998, to remember and commemorate the mistreatment and suffering of the Stolen Generation, who were forcibly taken from their families, communities and culture.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, Coonamble Public School weren’t able to have their usual activities, which would ordinarily include family members, but the school held an assembly, a minute of silence, raised the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags.
The school choir performed a moving rendition of Bob Randall’s ‘Brown Skin Baby’, which was viewed on Facebook over 200,000 times and shared 3,883 times by Tuesday 2 June.
Because of COVID-19, the students only had 20 minutes to learn the song, which was sung in both Gamilaraay and English.
“This idea to sing the song came from Jo Lee who is the Cultural School Learning Support Officer at the school,” said David Jones, who teaches the choir which his son Travis is in.
“She gave us the resources to learn the song and she’s the reason my son knew how to sing it Gamilaraay.”
Mr Jones says the children in the choir are excited about its viral status, which also caught the attention of the songwriter Bob Randall’s wife.
“I want to congratulate all of you for your beautiful and moving performance of my husband’s song, Brown Skin Baby. I have no doubt that he would be so very proud of you all as am I. He, too, liked to sing both in Language and in English, and wrote many storysongs. Its such a good way to learn stories, even the stories of the history of Australia. Well done!” Barbara Schacht Randall commented on the Facebook video.
“I’m so very moved by what you’ve done. My husband and I had so many wonderful experiences with children who naturally relate to learning through the arts. You must be so very proud of your son. He has a special gift of voice, presence, and confidence that inspires hope and when we see that strength in our youth, that’s the medicine for hopelessness. How timely…. Not only is this performance a deeply poignant, meaningful beginning to Reconciliation Week, it reminds us of our responsibility for the children now and the generations to come.. Thank you, David. You’ve done an extraordinary thing in sharing this.”
In February 2008, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd formally moved a motion of apology to Aboriginal Australians on behalf of previous governments, whose policies and legislation “inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.”
In class, students watched a video of the speech and reflected with their teachers the significance of the apology.
“The government says sorry for when they took the children away from their parents,” said Braydon from 6H.
“The Aboriginal people got taken away by the white people and the white people didn’t want the Aboriginal kids to know what their community is,” said Armanii from 3/4P.
“They also apologised because it teared a lot of families apart,” said Gemma from 6H.
Coonamble Elder Aunty Gloria Fernando says Sorry Day is a way to educate children about the Stolen Generation and other Aboriginal issues, especially seeing as Coonamble Public School’s demographic is more than 90 percent Aboriginal.
“We give the kids activities to educate them about the Stolen Generation,” said Aunty Gloria.
“My aunties were both a part of the Stolen Generation, and Sorry Day is a very emotional day for people.”