National Sorry Day means many different things to different people.
Some commemorate then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s 2007 apology to the First Australians on behalf of the country.
Others celebrate this act of inclusion and contrition.
Some like former Prime Minister John Howard viewed the apology as entirely unnecessary, stating he ‘‘did not subscribe to the black armband view of history’’.
Sorry Day grew out of the momentum of a series of events. The 1967 referendum that saw an overwhelming number of voters, 90.77 per cent, throw their support behind altering the constitution to allow Aboriginal people to take their rightful place as citizens of Australia.
The Australian High Court Mabo decision of 1992 was also another milestone, when the idea of terra nullius, that Australia was uninhabited prior to European colonisation, was overthrown by our High Court judges six to one.
In 1997 the ‘Bringing Them Home’ report into the Stolen Generation — thousands of indigenous Australians who had been forcibly removed from their families — recommended an apology be made on behalf of the nation.
It took a decade and the removal of the Howard government for that recommendation to be acted on at the highest level.
National Sorry Day may be purely symbolic, but symbols are important. Symbols guide us and help us judge ourselves.
Commemorating National Sorry Day reaffirms to ourselves, our nation, and those most deeply affected by past events, our First Australian brothers and sisters, that we collectively acknowledge the unnecessary pain and suffering caused by past mistakes.
It provides a blueprint for how we conduct ourselves moving forward and a message of how we can learn from history, lest we repeat those mistakes.
Since the 1967 referendum First Australians have been increasingly taking their rightful place in our society.
Some of them represent our best and brightest, in our parliament, on sporting fields, on stages and screens.
But it is how we treat all First Australians, and for that matter, all Australians, that really matters.
National Sorry Day is an important part of that treatment.