Sorry – Now What?

“The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

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.”

Kevin Rudd Sorry Speech, 2007

The apology to Australia’s First Nations People from then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, was met with much fanfare. Particularly so because the previous Prime Minister, John Howard, had refused to offer one. Howard feared that if he were to offer an apology to the owners of the land, the First Nations People, that it would open up the floodgates to litigation.

It didn’t do that. But neither did it change things much. Our First Nation People are still among the most poor in the nation, if not the world. A large number are still the victims of any number of health, social, educational and financial issues. In short, although Rudd’s apology was sincere, it led to little change. In fact, with the introduction of the Cashless Welfare Card and the disbanding of the Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), it could be argued that First Nations People are as powerless as ever.

It is a stark reminder that actions speak louder than words and that the rhetoric has not been matched by effective action.

Interestingly, the day before Invasion Day, I read an apology from the Can Do Group to the South Australian Deaf community. The Can Do Group manage Deaf Can Do.  For those that do not know, Deaf Can Do are the services that were previously provided by the Royal South Australian Deaf Society. The Society were previously based at the hallowed grounds of 262 South Terrace, Adelaide, affectionately known to the Deaf Community as 262. Anyway, the apology was offered by Heidi Limareff, Group Chief Executive, Can Do Group. You can see an Auslan version of the apology by clicking here – AUSLAN APOLOGY

” I have spent a lot of time listening and have heard the pain and sadness caused by many South Australian institutions in the past, including experiences with the Royal South Australian Deaf Society.

While some people took me through the history of the Deaf Society from the very early days, most people’s focus was on three of more recent events:

  • –  First, the merge between Townsend House and The Royal South Australian Deaf Society in early 2007.
  • –  Second, the loss of membership.
  • –  And, third, the sale of 262 South Terrace in 2014.  

I have worked for the Deaf Society for nearly 16 years now so I experienced these events first hand. I know the communication to the community was poor and I also understand that the community consultation about these changes was not very effective or collaborative. I am very sorry for this. Our Board and leadership are very sorry. We are sorry for the impact on individuals and the community of these events. 

We are sorry there was poor communication before and during the sale, and we are sorry that we did not consult properly with the community. We are sorry for the hurt, the sadness, and the fracturing of the community. And we are sorry for the feeling of loss so many of you have experienced through losing your cultural home and sense of place.” 

Heidi Limareff, Group Chief Executive

I have no doubt that the apology from Ms Limareff is authentic and sincere. I have no doubt that she empathises and feels the pain of the Community. Like with the Rudd apology, I hope that the actions that follow from the Can Do Group meet the rhetoric. I hope that these sincere words from Ms Limareff do just not end up in cyber space, well meaning words that are not matched by the actions.

Many people reading this will not know much of the history of 262. The building at 262 South Terrace was purchased way back in the 1920’s. I understand that the Deaf community were active in its purchase. They held raffles, visited pubs  and raised the capital that led to the purchase of 262. The purchase occurred because the original premises of the Deaf Society became too small. As the Community grew so did its need for a larger base and cultural home. The building at 262 was purchased largely through the hard work and dedication of the Deaf Community. In short it largely belonged to the Deaf community.

Over the years the Royal South Australian Deaf Society was mostly controlled by hearing people. There were Deaf people on the Board of course, but they were always in the minority. It is a truism to say that hearing people controlled the Deaf society and its finances. In the late 1990’s the South Australian Government changed how it funded Disability Groups. This meant that a large proportion of the funding it provided to the Deaf Society was cut. The Deaf Society struggled and in an effort to survive sold off most of its assets until, it seems, the only asset left was 262!

In 2007 the Deaf Society was close to broke and asked the Can Do Group, (then known as Townsend House), to help them out. Townsend House came to the rescue and took over the administration of the Deaf Society. I remember seeing the agreement that was written at the time and writing here at the Rebuttal that effectively Townsend House now controlled the Deaf Society and 262. If they saw fit, I argued, they could sell 262 and probably would.

The CEO and President of the Deaf Society of the day attacked me relentlessly. They accused me of fear mongering and letting fiction get in the way of the truth. They even promised, if memory serves me correctly, to never sell the building. We all know now where the fiction was.

In 2014 the building, 262, was sold. Before that the Deaf community of South Australia protested loudly and held rallies to save the building, all to no avail. I wrote an article about this at the time suggesting that the Deaf community had been Cast Out Like Squatters – Click on the title to read.

Inevitably the building was sold. Can Do offered the Deaf community a home in Modbury. The details of the agreement I do not know. I understand that despite the efforts of many dedicated volunteers the headquarters in Modbury have not brought the community together. The Deaf community in South Australia has become, like other states that lost their community centres, increasingly fragmented and divided. The community still grieves for its soul and centre that existed at 262. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the sale of 262 ripped the heart out of the South Australian Deaf community. Not unlike the sale of Jolimont in Victoria or Stanmore in NSW, lessons that hearing administrators of Deaf societies continue to not heed.

So here we are now. The Can Do Group has offered an apology for selling the building that was the Heart of the Deaf community. A building that, in my view, it had no right to sell. It inherited the building for nothing and it seems it wished to recoup the money it had invested in saving the Deaf Society, whatever the social and emotional cost this would cause the South Australian Deaf Community.

I welcome the apology from Ms Limareff. I have no doubt that she and the Can Do group are sincere. She has promised to continue to consult and involve the Deaf community in decisions moving forward. I welcome this also. However, like with the Rudd apology, I hope that this sincere apology does not end up in the annals of Deaf history as mere words – Let the actions that follow meet the rhetoric.

3 thoughts on “Sorry – Now What?

  1. I use work at bar manger 5 year it’s our beautiful ours auslan Deafs community very disappointed selling this 262 south tce Adelaide wish stay our Deafs community I’m not happy why they selling again wish u want me stay club u pay me I can look after deaf service/ bar club too it beautiful Mets news freinds and social party etc wedding /birthday, rock rock wonderful close city I won’t go modbury new deaf club too far very disappointed hope to hear frm you soon lina goodyear

  2. Finally you put this article on our Deaf community gatherings as we all suffered by the damned hearing privileges as we all now grown 2 shown our voices on it as you all can seen as we all learnt in our Deafhood works also the BLM in 2020 so it’s time 2 vent our Sign language people’s Rights mhmmm
    Also there’s Royal Commission 4 our Disabilities in 2021 4 our compensation yeah Go 4 it mate

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