the cover of the sorry books

Background


The Sorry Books campaign was launched by Hazel Hawke and Bryce Courtenay on Australia Day 1998, in a ceremony at Circular Quay in Sydney, New South Wales. Other prominent Australians who attended the ceremony and signed the books included Jim McLelland, Elizabeth Evatt, Faith Bandler, Robyn Williams, Ruth Cracknell, Anne Deveson, John Bell and Anne Thomson. Organisers estimated that over 5,000 people signed one of four books which were available on the day at the Museum of Contemporary Arts or the Opera House.


A launch in London was held on 26 March at Australia House. It was supported by a number of well known Australians living in London including radio personality, Jonathon Coleman; author, Kathy Lette; actor, Mark Little and gay rights activist, Peter Tatchell. Another signing took place in the House of Commons on 7 April where 14 British Members of Parliament signed the book. The books were later available for signing at the Earls Court offices of Southern Cross and TNT. Here the books were signed by many expatriates as well as locals and tourists from many countries around the world.

Around 1000 official Sorry Books were circulated around Australia by Australians for Native Title, assisted also by Australians for native Title and Reconciliation and a vast network of volunteers. They were displayed in a variety of places including local councils, libraries, museums, churches, bookshops, art galleries and schools. Some groups who ordered books had volunteers to take them around to different locations within their areas instead of leaving them in one place. The organising committee asked that books were returned to them after a month so they could be sent to another location for signing. Many organisations and individuals also made up their own books.


The Sorry Books were handed to a delegation of Indigenous Australians by the Governor of New South Wales, Gordon Samuels, in a ceremony at Government House on National Sorry Day, 26th May, 1998. This day was the anniversary of the tabling of the report Bringing them home which was the result of the national inquiry into the separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families and conducted by the Human Rights Commission.


The books were then forwarded to the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS), in Canberra, for permanent retention. They now form part of the Library's Manuscript Collection. AIATSIS holds around 480 of the approximately 1000 Sorry Books.


Many communities also held their own Sorry Day ceremonies and gave the book, or books which had been on display to their local Indigenous leaders or representatives. These books have then been kept in the local community, in a library, or alternative archival repository.