WSLHD staff reflect on the pain and trauma of the Stolen Generation at National Sorry Day event

There wasn’t a single empty seat in the room when WSLHD recently hosted an event in recognition of National Sorry Day, a significant day for all Australians and especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities.

The event reflected on the significance of this national day, specifically the role NSW Health played in the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the Stolen Generation, which the NSW Health Secretary issued a formal apology in recognition in 2022.

The event was held at Cumberland Hospital in acknowledgement of the complex 175 year history of the site.

Staff from across the district were pulling up extra chairs and eventually standing in the empty spaces to listen to speeches from WSLHD Acting Chief Executive Alison Derrett, and guest speaker and Dharug woman, Julie Jones.

Hosted by Mental Health Services General Manager Jason Sevil and attended by staff from clinical, non-clinical and corporate spaces, the event began with a Welcome to Country from Julie.

“This place has connection to one of the most significant dreaming stories across New South Wales, the story of the eel,” Julie said.

“It is a story of interconnectedness and connectivity, and how we connect with people all across the country to get things done the right way.

“I hope that as you’re travelling around, working and living across Dharug country you take the time to connect to country.

She’s a great place to heal, and our people are very generous and welcoming. So on behalf on the Burramattagal people, welcome.

Julie Jones

Acting Chief Executive Alison Derrett addressed the audience next, with an acknowledgement of the mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the many Aboriginal children who were admitted to hospitals across the state and never returned to their families and communities.

“We have placed plaques at each of our facilities to extend NSW Health’s apology to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who work at or visit our hospitals,” Alison said.

“Today we want to acknowledge this past and dark history and reflect on how we can contribute to healing and a brighter future.”

Julie Jones returned to the lectern, addressing the significance of the location of Cumberland Hospital to her family, as well as the broader Aboriginal community.

“Burramattagal country was a great place of ceremony and was one of the last places to hold major tradition after colonisation,” Julie said.

“Each and every person can play a role in helping others understand what sorry really means. Be compassionate and empathetic.

I want to pay tribute to the fact that the Stolen Generation continually relive their trauma and their pain to share their stories so that they can help us understand what their journey was like, and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

Julie Jones

The crowd then moved outside for a smoking ceremony, a cleansing tradition that has been practiced by Aboriginal people for centuries.

Staff listened on as Julie explained the meaning behind smoking ceremonies and the significance it holds in Aboriginal culture.

“Fire is a big part of our cultural practices,” she said.

“The purpose of going through the smoke today is to lift the negativity, bad energy, angst, the stress, everything else we might have.

“As you pour smoke over yourself and pass it up to our ancestors, because they know the struggles much better than we do and will help us let them go so that we can move on with our day, week and month feeling just a little lighter.”