CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- Aboriginal leaders lauded champion runner Cathy Freeman for speaking out about the "stolen generation" of Aborigines and the hardship felt by many families.
The policy of the forced removal of Aborigines continued into the 1960s. The government has refused to apologize for taking Aboriginal children from their homes.
"I was so angry because they were denying they had done anything wrong, denying that a whole generation was stolen," Freeman, the world 400-meter champion, told Britain's Sunday Telegraph.
"The fact is, parts of people's lives were taken away, they were stolen. I'll never know who my grandfather was, I didn't know who my great-grandmother was, and that can never be replaced."
Aboriginal leaders across Australia on Monday hoped the comments would put new pressure on the government to apologize. But they want Freeman to put the issue behind her and concentrate on winning the 400 meters at the Sydney Olympics in September.
"I don't think it will affect her performance," activist Charles Perkins said. "It will make her focus even more strongly on the Olympics."
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Herron said the government acknowledged many people were affected, but stood by the decision to not issue a formal apology.
"The government has expressed its deep and sincere regret for past injustices and for the hurt and trauma that many indigenous people continue to feel as a consequence of past practices of separation," a Herron spokesman said.
Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said Freeman's comments were a plea from the heart.
"Hers is a dignified and moving statement which reflects her own life experience and genuine sense of hurt," Beazley said.
The Australian Olympic Committee and Athletics Australia declined to comment.