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Sun, 05.28.2000

Aboriginal Rights Protested In Sydney, Australia

On this date in 2000 in Sydney, Australia, more than 200,000 demonstrators marched to support a campaign for social justice for Aborigines, Australia’s Black community.

This Black ethnic group has lived in Australia for approximately 40,000 years. High above the river of people giving the government its sharpest political message since the Vietnam War demonstrations of the 1970s, a sky-writing plane left a white vapor trail tracing a simple message: “SORRY.” Geoff Clark, chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Straits Islander Commission, called the showing “a huge success.” others said it was a mandate to press the government for a formal treaty on the status and rights of the country's 380,000 aborigines.

Aborigines are often called People of the Dream, as they possess unusual powers of mental telepathy. When Europeans arrived in Australia in 1788, there were around 300,000 Aborigines divided into about 500 tribes, which spoke 700 dialects. Australia was first used as a British penal colony, and whites sent there were either convicts or military guards.

Although the colonial government asked settlers to respect the natives’ rights, the settlers, many ex-convicts who had completed their sentences, were allowed to settle any disputes with the Aborigines without trial. This meant that they were often beaten or killed over any dispute.  In 1937, the Commonwealth Government held a national conference on Aboriginal affairs was held. The Conference agreed that Aboriginal people ‘not of full blood should be absorbed or ‘assimilated into the wider population. Assimilation aimed to make the ‘Aboriginal problem’ gradually disappear so Aboriginal people would lose their identity in the wider community.

Though the Aborigine people resisted, they were no match for European firepower. The combination of massacres, environmental destruction, and the introduction of European diseases like cholera and influenza reduced the Aborigine population to 60,000 in the early 20th century.

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