About 500 people seated at tables of eight gathered for a special breakfast at the Adelaide Convention Centre to acknowledge the Fifth Anniversary of the National Apology to the Stolen Generations.
Kevin Rudd, the then Prime Minister who made the Apology, spoke about that day, five years ago.
As I have reflected on his telling I am impressed by three things:
1. Inspirational leadership demands a vision of a bigger world and has the courage to open its doors to allow others to enter.
Rudd sensed the time was right to make the Apology his first act as Prime Minister, not really knowing how it would be received. Reaching out his hand to the Leader of the Opposition following his speech was a complete act of faith, and inviting him to carry the Coolomon, a gift of the Stolen Generations, out of the Chamber with him, a bold gesture of reconciliation, considering the previous ten years of denial!
2. Inspirational leadership understands the significance of symbol and metaphor.
Rudd and his wife received the invited members of the Stolen Generations, who had come from all corners of the land, in the Great Hall of the People. Rudd arranged for them to enter through the entrance reserved only for special dignitaries- they would have passed right by the Office of the Prime Minister.
“S/He anoints my head with oil,” says Psalm 23, an act invariably associated with the coronation of kings, but offered by God, according to this Psalm, to all who respond to the invitation to feast at the table of Life. Rudd was lifting this people.
3. Inspirational leadership is profoundly pastoral.
Rudd based the Apology on his experience of listening to a member of the Stolen Generations. He read the politically correct brief provided to him by his staffers and promptly put it in the bin. It was completely incongruous with that experience. He took out pen and paper and wrote from the heart. It was still in process in his mind ten minutes before being due in the Chamber to deliver it. He poured every last moment into that speech.
And so, five years on, Rudd was once again lifting this people. Profoundly visionary, profoundly significant and profoundly pastoral.
Most of us left the breakfast needing space to take it all in.