by Professor Greg Lehman
Co-Chair, RST Aboriginal Engagement Committee
On Wednesday, 4 December 2019, the University of Tasmania became the ﬁrst learned institution in Tasmania to offer a formal apology to Tasmanian Aboriginal people.
Vice Chancellor, Professor Rufus Black, marked the day as one on which “… we reﬂect on the parts of our past we are not proud of …a moment for humility, truth-telling, pain and accountability.” Broadly welcomed by Aboriginal people and positively reﬂected on across Tasmanian media, the University’s apology was offered in response to over a century of disrespectful treatment of Aboriginal people by the academy. “For too long the histories we taught hid the true story of war and genocidal behaviour. For too long the wisdom of Aboriginal people was not thought worthy of our academy,” Prof Black said.
During 2019, the Royal Society of Tasmania has made substantial progress toward the development of its own Apology. Like the University of Tasmania, the Society was also involved in research and treatment of Aboriginal ancestral remains that is now recognised as disrespectful and has contributed to ongoing hurt being felt by today’s Aboriginal people. The development of the Society’s Apology has been a painstaking one, involving independent commissioned research and close examination of Society records to ensure that an accurate and objective assessment could be made of a range of activities that impacted on Aboriginal people. The Society’s approach has been to thoroughly account for the decisions and actions that it should take responsibility for and to better understand the context of those actions.
An Aboriginal Engagement Committee jointly chaired by Prof Matt King and Prof Greg Lehman worked under close direction of the RST Council to produce two discussion papers and reports to Members during 2019, outlining key issues considered by the Apology process, and identifying a number of recommended actions to accompany a formal Statement of Apology.
Following a special meeting of the Council on 19 December 2019, a draft Apology to Tasmanian Aboriginal people has now been produced. This was recently presented for conﬁdential consideration by the Aboriginal Advisory Council of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, which is also developing its own apology. It was agreed that the RST and TMAG would work cooperatively to plan an event at which both institutions would present their respective statements. Similar consultation will also be held with the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery’s Aboriginal Reference Group to ensure that sensitive matters involved in the Apology are dealt with appropriately and respectfully. Further information will be provided to Members of the Society when the Apology is ﬁnalised and a date for its announcement is set.
Reproduced from the April, 2020 RST Newsletter.