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Aborigines mark 40 years as 'human beings'

EXTRAORDINARY though it seems, it was not until 1967 that Australian Aborigines were recognised as citizens of their own country.

Before that they were classified as native wildlife, along with kangaroos and koalas.

This weekend Aborigines are converging on Canberra, the national capital, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of a referendum that led to the constitution being amended.

The anniversary is a reminder of the massive inequalities that still exist in housing, health, education, employment and life expectancy.

Until the referendum, Aborigines were not, officially, human beings. They were "flora and fauna". They were confined to white-controlled reserves and forbidden to travel without special permission. They were not allowed in pubs, and were paid wages in meat and salt.

While some traditional lands have been handed back to indigenous people, they remain, on thewhole, marginalised - socially, politically andeconomically.

Ms Burney is one of only a handful of Aboriginalpoliticians. The same istrue of academia and the professions.

Many communities are blighted by alcoholism and violence.

Black Australians are still waiting for an official apology to the "Stolen Generation" - the thousands of children forcibly removed from their families and assimilated into white society, under a policy introduced early last century and not abandoned until 1975.

For the past decade the Prime Minister, John Howard, has resisted calls to apologise.

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