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Apology Day anniversary stirs heartbreak for Brisbane indigenous elder Theresa Nunn

Day to remember: Indigenous students who performed at St James College Apology Day ceremony. Indigenous support officer Theresa Nunn, is on the right.

IT is 11 years since former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised on behalf of a nation to Australia’s indigenous people for the Stolen Generation – and it is an anniversary that still brings deep, heartfelt tears to Brisbane indigenous elder Theresa Nunn.

“I am from the Stolen Generation, I was taken when I was seven years old with my older sister and three brothers,” Mrs Nunn said, proud of her Nunukul tribal connection with North Stradbroke Island. 

As an indigenous support officer at St James College, in inner city Spring Hill, Mrs Nunn is employed to ensure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are versed in their culture that has been lost over generations.

Mrs Nunn said she witnessed “the impact of the Stolen Generation still happening today”, referring to the impacts of grief, pain and intergenerational trauma.

Still, she said sad stories, like her own, needed to be told.

“As a family we are still dealing with the trauma that has been put on to us. This day is very special because it helps us heal,” Mrs Nunn said.

“My father was in the Korean war, overseas fighting, and he once said ‘our enemies are in our own back yard’. 

“That’s when we were taken. My mother got sick, she was English, they rang the Catholic priest and unfortunately all he did was take us to the mission where we were totally lost for a long time until our mother could find us again.”

Mrs Nunn said her father didn’t realise the trauma his children went through, “because out of respect to mum none of us really spoke about it until after she passed away in 2007.”

“I finally realised that my older sister still hears me screaming… about being taken,” she said.

“I grew up hiding my Aboriginality because I was terrified of being taken once again.

“Intergenerational trauma is very big because as a ‘half-caste child’ we grew up not realising what it meant until someone said it meant two bloods. 

“But my father always said ‘as a person we have to have two bloods running’.

“So why should an Aboriginal person be disadvantaged?”

Living with intergenerational trauma: Theresa Nunn, indigenous support officer at St James College.

Mrs Nunn said her own story fuelled her passion for young indigenous to keep traditional stories, dancing and culture alive.

St James College has 25 indigenous students, and most participated in a school dance performance during a ceremony marking Apology Day on February 13.

Year 12 student Bethany Bobir, a Quandamooka woman and indigenous ambassador – one of several college seniors receiving an indigenous scholarship and who has her sights set on tertiary study, led the dance performance.

“I plan to go to university and study psychology or maybe law,” she said.

When Mr Rudd made his apology to indigenous Australia, St James College principal, Ann Rebgetz, was principal at the remote Northern Territory community of Wadeye with 730 indigenous students.

“It’s the biggest school in Australia for indigenous students,” she told her school’s Apology Day gathering.

Leader: Year 12 student and indigenous ambassador, Bethany Bobir, who is planning to go to university after finishing school.

“It was the poorest community. 

“It still has the highest rate of rheumatic heart disease in the world – the strongest indicator of poverty.

“Many of you come from countries where you lived in very poor conditions. 

“From what you have experienced I don’t think you would think that in Australia we have people who live in such poor conditions.

“This is why we need to own our history, own our current situation in Australia, own the gaps between indigenous Australia and non-indigenous Australia.”

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