Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery broke down at Monday night's Wollongong City Council meeting, choking back tears as he reflected on his own connections to indigenous Australians.
He delivered a deeply personal speech about reconciliation after calling for a minute's silence to mark National Sorry Day, speaking of the Aboriginal children he met during his own troubled childhood.
Cr Bradbery has spoken about his tough upbringing, telling how he and his brothers were taken away from their alcoholic parents when he was eight years old.
Despite facing many hardships, he said memories of the Aboriginal children he played with as a child in Tamworth and with whom he lived at a Barnados children's home in north-west Sydney, meant the concept of reconciliation was close to home.
"There's a great sadness for me about the impacts of having children taken away from their parents, and you can only have tears in your eyes when you realise the tragedy of it all," he said.
"For me, growing up with my Aboriginal mates at West Tamworth Public School, we were all equal and we were all mates who just got on with life - we all knew what it was not to wear shoes and I didn't have that awareness of any inequity.
"I've always had a passion for social justice and equity and I think the Aboriginal people lost that big time."
Cr Bradbery told the council he thought the Aboriginal community was one of Australia's greatest assets, and needed to be recognised as "something we should all be proud of and take the time to celebrate".
"It's such an incredible culture, and the other thing that never ceases to amaze me is how gracious they are," he said.
"Boy, they have a lot to be angry about and they could be very embittered against us and what we stand for, in some respects.
"Tonight is just a small gesture, it's nothing much, but as council we represent this community ... [and] as Lord Mayor, I'm one of the richest people in the world having access to that group of people and their insights."
Councillors Jill Merrin, Chris Connor and Bede Crasnich also delivered heartfelt speeches on the importance of Sorry Day and Reconciliation Week, with Cr Connor recounting parts of Paul Keating's Redfern address and Kevin Rudd's national apology to the stolen generations.