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Queen Elizabeth Visits Aborigines

March 22, 2000

BOURKE, Australia (AP) _ After meeting local Aboriginals on Wednesday, Queen Elizabeth II praised efforts to heal the rifts that once led this remote community to be branded Australia’s most racist town.

On the third full day of her visit to Australia, the British monarch devoted most of her attention to Aboriginal affairs, inspecting an indigenous radio station and learning about efforts to ensure the survival of a local language.

She also visited Bourke Primary School, where Aboriginal culture is taught to help defuse the tension between black and white communities.

In a brief speech, the queen said she was ``interested to learn that the rich aspects of Aboriginal culture are present in all the school’s programs.″

``All communities need building with patience and understanding in ways such as these,″ she said.

The Aboriginal culture programs were put in place in 1997, when simmering racial tensions erupted into rioting, with Aboriginals fighting police and attacking local properties.

In a reminder that problems persist, a lone protester shouted out at the queen to apologize for the past treatment of Aboriginals.

Numbering 353,000 in a population of 19 million, Australia’s indigenous people are still the most disadvantaged group in society 200 years after white settlement, official studies say.

They have a life expectancy up to 20 years shorter than whites, and are beset by higher rates of preventable diseases, infant mortality, illiteracy, alcoholism and drug abuse.

Despite rain that turned Bourke’s dusty red streets into muddy pools, about 1,500 people gathered to see the queen, some climbing trees to get a better view.

While the queen’s popularity has been falling in Australia in recent years, rural towns like Bourke are generally monarchist strongholds.

After visiting the primary school _ where teachers gave extra courses to make sure pupils knew who their special visitor was _ the queen went to Aboriginal radio station 2 CUZ FM, which broadcasts in indigenous languages and runs courses teaching the Yandruwandha language.

She was welcomed by the Ngemba Muranari Aboriginal dance troupe. Wearing black loincloths and daubed in ochre, the dancers performed a traditional dance representing native Australian wildlife, including kangaroos and emus.

Radio station manager Greg McKellar said the queen showed a keen interest in Aboriginal culture during her brief visit. McKellar’s wife presented the queen with a boomerang and nulla nulla, traditional wooden hunting weapons.

Bourke, a town of 4,000 people 560 miles northwest of Sydney, was once the center of Australia’s sheep farming industry, but has suffered in recent years as the price of wool slumped. Cotton and fruit farms now produce much of the town’s wealth.


On the Net:

British Royal Family’s web site: http://www.royal.gov.uk/

Australian government’s web site: http://www.fed.gov.au/

Australian Republican Movement’s web site: http://www.republic.org.au/arm/arm.html

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