Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said in the Parliament Wednesday - "For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry. To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities we say sorry. And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture we say sorry..."
The 'Stolen Generations' are the generations of Aboriginal children taken away from their families by governments, churches and welfare bodies to be brought up in institutions or fostered out to white families.
Removing children from their families was official government policy in Australia until 1969. However, the practice had begun in the earliest days of European settlement, when children were used as guides, servants and farm labour.
The Aborigines Protection Board was established and oversaw the mass dislocation of Aboriginal people from their traditional lands onto reserves and stations. Aboriginal girls in particular were sent to homes established by the Board to be trained for domestic service.
As Former High Court Judge, Sir Ronald Wilson, who chaired an inquiry by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission had remarked scathingly: Children were removed because the Aboriginal race was seen as an embarrassment to white Australia. The aim was to strip the children of their Aboriginality, and accustom them to live in a white Australia. The tragedy was compounded when the children, as they grew up, encountered the racism which shaped the policy, and found themselves rejected by the very society for which they were being† prepared.
The South Australian commissioner for Aboriginal engagement, Klynton Wanganeen, says he is confident the apology has paved the way for further change.
"It's a symbolic and political gesture, but I got a feeling that there was real commitment to work with Aboriginal people again," he said.
Wanganeen hopes change is now possible in many areas, including employment, particularly in the mining industry.
South-east elder Malcolm Anderson says the apology has already had a significant impact in the local community.
"It was heart jerking, a lot of sobs in there and I was lost for words, it was really great," he said.
"I think both sides of the party have come to terms with it and it was really great. We'll see what happens now in a year's time."
The South Australian Rural Doctors Association is expecting the Federal Government to move towards improving the Indigenous health care system.
Steve Holmes, president of the South Australian Rural Doctors Association, said, "The action that we need is to provide more access for Indigenous and non-indigenous rural Australians to health care."
One of Australia's leading kidney health organisations has welcomed the Federal Government's commitment to improving Aboriginal life expectancy but says some practical measures need to be taken to make it a reality.
The chief executive of Kidney Health Australia, Anne Wilson, says Aboriginal death rates from kidney disease are 10 times higher than the rest of the Australian population.
She says simple solutions like preventative nutrition and access to dialysis and health workers, should be top priority for the Federal Government if it is serious about its commitments.
"We need major collaborative work around these areas that are going to come up with a range of strategies to address the issues that are present in the Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander communities," she said.