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Wednesday, October 13, 1999 Published at 17:03 GMT 18:03 UK


Queen meets Aborigines

There is photographic evidence of poor past treatment

The Queen has met Aboriginal leaders at Buckingham Palace, as Australians prepare to vote on whether to keep the British monarchy.

The Aboriginal delegation is seeking greater British recognition of the plight of the indigenous people and the impact of the colonisation of Australia by white people.

The private meeting is less than a month before an Australian referendum on whether the Queen should remain head of state of the Commonwealth country.

[ image: The Queen will learn in November whether Australia still wants her]
The Queen will learn in November whether Australia still wants her
Patrick Dodson, a member of the delegation, said: "Her Majesty has a keen interest in the indigenous people.

"The exact nature of our discussion is private but what we are trying to do is raise understanding between the British and the indigenous people.

"There is some unresolved and unfinished business from our perspective."

He said he did not expect the Queen to intervene with the Australian Government on behalf of Aborigines, who are at odds over land rights and compensation over past policies.

The meeting was to bring Her Majesty up-to-date with his people's experiences and the "lack of real progress to come to terms with our continuing rights and interests as the first people of Australia", he said.

40,000-year stay

During the 20-minute meeting, the delegation discussed with the Queen the difficulties faced by Aborigines since the British settled in Australia 200 years ago.

Aborigines claim to have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years, mostly as nomadic hunter-gatherers.

When white settlers arrived in 1788, to establish a penal colony, Aborigines say they were pushed off their land. Thousands were killed or died from diseases brought to Australia by the settlers.

Late 18th Century English colonisers declared Australia "terra nullius", or an empty land, failing to recognise Aboriginal rights.

Australia's indigenous people now number less than 400,000 in a population of about 19 million and are the most disadvantaged group in society.

The vote on whether to retain the monarchy in Australia is on 6 November.

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