Tomorrow, when Prime Minister Rudd finally utters the word ‘sorry’ the issue will be effectively removed from the political playing field.

It’s a reality not lost on many of the people of Canberra, where there is a real sense of optimism and hope.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags adorn the nation’s capital. Busloads of blackfellas just keep arriving and barely a plane touches down without a dozen black feet on board.

This morning people packed the Members Hall of Parliament for the welcome to country ceremony, the first time a parliamentary session has begun with a traditional ceremony.

There is a sense of pride I have never seen before in Canberra, let alone in Indigenous affairs. The mood feels like a celebration, although of course it’s no such thing.

Wednesday’s events are solemn –­ they will open old wounds in old people.

You can’t walk around the Aboriginal Tent Embassy ­where the masses are congregating and escape the reality that an immense amount of damage has been done to many, many people.

But despite the pain, the Tent Embassy is a model of everything that the Coalition tried so hard to stop. It is an example of black and white working together, of communities coming together, for a common good.

Michael, a caterer from northern NSW, “just turned up” at the Embassy over the weekend to feed the masses. He’s constructed an entire kitchen, complete with dining area and pretty flashing lights for ambiance. Meals are available “by donation”. Or not.

Canberrans just keep turning up to donate food, plus warm clothes and blankets (apparently, some of our northern neighbours are finding the Canberra nights a little cool. Go figure).

The embassy is living proof that not only can symbolic and practical reconciliation work hand in hand, but that neither works well without the other.

It still boggles the mind to think that people have used and abused the Stolen Generations issue for their own personal political gain. What brand of man targets the most vulnerable members of our community in the vainglorious pursuit of power?

But that’s a question that doesn’t really need answering, because in the end Howard and his band of merry deniers did more for reconciliation and healing of the Stolen Generations than anyone before them.

Sure, it was Kevin Rudd who was man enough to deliver a long-overdue apology, and for that he deserves high praise.

But it was Howard et al whose mean spirits helped inspire a nation (or maybe one half of it). For without them, this event would not be so big.

There is a new spirit of unity and pride among Aboriginal people, and their non-Aboriginal supporters. Some good has finally come of the Stolen Generations outrage.

Watch the Welcome to Country ceremony by clicking on the image below:

Peter Fray

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