Rain and the onset of winter did little to dampen enthusiasm to mark National Sorry Day in Coonabarabran, with a large turnout of Aboriginal Elders, local school students and community members combining for the annual march across the Mary Jane Cain Bridge on Thursday, 26 May.
Participants marched to the Coonabarabran Town Hall where Aboriginal Elders, Maureen Sulter and Casey Dowd delivered the traditional Welcome to Country and local students recited their reflections on Sorry Day.
Held annually, National Sorry Day commemorations remind and raise awareness among politicians, policy makers, and the wider public about the significance of the Australian governments’ forcible removal policies from the 1800s up the 1970s and the resultant impact on those taken and their families and communities.
These policies resulted in a “Stolen Generation”, where indigenous children were forcibly removed from their families and placed into institutions or into foster care with non- indigenous families.
Sorry Day service
At the Coonabarabran Sorry Day service, Coona High student, Allynta Sutherland carried out her role of MC proficiently and with respect. She extended an invitation to Elders to participate in the lighting of the candles, a symbolic ceremony to remember all those affected by the Stolen Generation.
Flowers were presented by school children to the Elders, the Coona High Indigenous Dance Troupe entertained with the “Emu” dance, passed down through generations, and David Sulter screened an emotional video presentation on the fight by Aboriginals for due recognition.
Stolen Generation remembered
Aunty Maureen Sulter, great granddaughter of Mary Jane Cain, paid tribute to local people whose lives had been impacted as victims of the Stolen Generation: Ruby Williams, mother of Brenda Nicholas, who was taken from her family and placed as a maid for Dame Nellie Melba; Barbra Sorby; the five Fuller sisters - Ida Watton and Molly Chatfield, who were sent to Cootamundra Girls Home, Sarah Cain, Mary Nixon and Biddy Griffiths; Mrs Sulter’s mother and sister, Charlotte Cain and Kathleen Hinton; Una Lake; and the Robinson family - Julia, Violet and Harriet.
“We remember and pay our respects to these special people who all lived here in Coonabarabran and at Burra Bee Dee,” Mrs Sulter said.
Mrs Sulter continued her reflections with a special tribute to Barbra Sorby, who, along with her siblings, was removed when her mother passed away, despite a grandmother and other relations willing to take on the care of her and her brothers and sisters.
Barbra was in her first year of high school at Coonabarabran in 1954 when she was sent to a foster home, aged 13.
“Barbra Sorby - a very special friend and mate - was an example of the Stolen Generation from here at Coonabarabran,” Mrs Sulter said.
“She was taken away after her mum died during childbirth. Her family consisted of Gwen, Barbara, Brenda, Barry, Jill and Tony.
“Me and Myra (Cain) and our mums said our goodbyes at the old Coonabarabran Railway Station and sadly watched them go out of our lives on that old steam train that took them to Sydney, to be fostered out to separate families.
“They never saw each other until years later, when they found each other again.”
Barbra went on to become an active and vocal proponent of Aboriginal issues. She was part of the International Women’s Day marches, met with Gough Whitlam at Parliament House and
was named NSW Woman of the Year in 2011.
“Barbra, part of the Stolen Generation, was a lady who worked tirelessly for Aboriginal recognition, reconciliation and healing for those people caught between domestic violence caused by the frustration of being between two cultures,” said shire mayor, Peter Shinton in his address.
“I know of Barbra’s early life being removed from her family and Burra Bee Dee - a broken heart, but not a broken spirit.”
Cr Shinton met Barbra when she was Ambassador for the Warrumbungle Shire in 2012.
“I realised after her talking to me while I drove for a nearly two- hour period, about what she felt and what she believed; just what a wonderful, kind, enlightened person she was, but was tinged with a deep-seated anger, loss and sadness,” Cr Shinton said.
“An incredibly strong lady, she had to control her emotions while helping to control the emotions of the people she was working with.”
Home to Burra Bee Dee
Barbra Joan Asplet-Ducki, nee Sorby, passed away on 16 April, 2016, aged 75. She was brought home to rest at Burra Bee Dee.
“A strong woman created Burra Bee Dee and strong women have continued to come from there,” Cr Shinton said.
“Barbra was one of them, and now she has come home.”
Mrs Sulter shared with the Sorry Day attendees, the tribute she delivered to Barbra at her funeral.
“Yaama dhawunga nginaalingu mari. Girr gaba Gamilaraay. Walaabaaga ngiyani,” Mrs Sulter said in her native Gamilaraay.
“Welcome to the land of your people. Welcome to Gamilaraay country. We all welcome you home mate, to the place that you were born, to the place that you grew up on with all of your family and friends. Welcome back home to Burra Bee Dee.
“You have been a great ambassador for our people, you have done us proud. We will love you forever, our darling.
“May the Flying Mice at Burra Bee Dee help you to find peace and happiness from within the stars. God bless you.”
Barbra Sorby (front row, third from left) pictured in her first year at Coonabarabran High School. The same year Barbra became part of the Stolen Generation when sent from Coonabarabran to a foster home in Sydney after the death of her mother. Also pictured are Myra and Maureen Cain (Sulter) (front row, fourth and fifth from left), and Judy Ashby (front row, fifth from right).