"You live in a state of deep fear," said Sarah Jane Hall, after a pause. "Not being able to freely raise your children, to teach them their culture, their history, for deep fear the government would take them away - because it's happened before."
The proud Narungga woman, born on Dja Dja Wurrung land and raised on Latji Latji land, and mother of six, was speaking of her great-great grandmother, who, as a child, was violently torn from the arms of her family long ago.
But she was also referencing the searing and unbroken trauma delivered by that genocidal act; the way in which it had infused the fractured bonds of her familial and cultural heritage for generations to come.
"Because it's happened before," she said, "my family have - forever, for generations - tried to navigate a foot in both worlds."
Thursday marked National Sorry Day; an annual day in which the nation supposedly takes pause to reflect on the devastating consequences of a policy responsible for removing as many as 50,000 Indigenous children from their families between 1910 and the 1970s.
Many of these children, hundreds or thousands of whom found themselves isolated in orphanages across Ballarat, never saw their families again.
"We call them the Stolen Generations," said City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney on Thursday morning. "But at its heart, these are people we know in our community, people who were taken away from their families because of the colour of their skin."
"Assimilation was a racist policy, and we can't ever forget that. We have to keep acknowledging our genuine sorrow for that awful part of Australia's history and make sure it's never repeated."
A reticence, however, has long occupied the nation's consciousness to recognise, much less take responsibility for, the utter inhumanity of a policy calculated to tear down an ancient culture, a people, that had traversed the continent for some 65,000 years.
To this day, there are still some who subscribe to the charitable, but wholly false, view that assimilation was, in retrospect, a misconceived policy but one nevertheless borne of good intentions.
The unvarnished truth, of course, is that it was a policy inspired by the very same eugenics movement that gave rise to Nazism.
Australia's Commissioner for Native Affairs in the 1930s, A. O. Neville, justified the child removal policy on the footing that Indigenous people could only be assimilated into white culture by "breeding out their colour".
Some 60 years later, in 1997, the landmark Bringing Them Home report called this genocide; a view which corresponds with accepted definitions of the term under international law.
Yet, notwithstanding the damning findings of the report, it took more than a decade, as well as a change in government, to formally apologise for this incalculable injustice. And even then, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made plain that this "great stain [on] the nation's soul" would not be accompanied by reparations.
In the intervening 14 years since, conservative politicians of all persuasions baulked at the idea of supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart while condemning the inspired local government-led push to change the date.
Indeed, it was only last Saturday evening, just after 11.30pm, that the nation learned the incoming Labor government would elevate the Uluru Statement from the Heart as a priority in the coming term.
Sarah Jane Hall said she was hopeful developments of that kind would mark the beginning of tangible steps towards reconciliation.
"It did warm my heart to see there were many people running for seats in the election this year saying they would advance a voice for First Nations people in parliament," she said.
This, on any view, is progress. But it's also progress apt to distract from the reality that Indigenous children are still routinely removed from their families, albeit under the guise of child welfare.
Twenty-five years ago, when the Bringing them Home report was tabled in parliament, there were around 2,800 Aboriginal children in care. That number has since risen to 18,900.
Far from being something that must "never be repeated", the forcible removal of Indigenous children from their families is something that has survived both the long march of time and the judgment of history.
It is why - as Sarah Jane Hall put it - Indigenous families continue to live in fear; it is a fear which owes its existence as much to the present as to the past.
And until we recognise that much, a question mark will rightly hang over any utterance of the word 'sorry'.
At the end of her National Sorry Day address, Sarah Jane Hall said the purpose of the day was to "reflect on how all Australians can contribute [to] the healing process" of the nation.
"May we recognise the truth of our history," she said. "May we tread lightly, may be celebrate the richness of Indigenous culture."
The long road of reconciliation, in other words, necessarily starts and ends with the truth.
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