Queen visits race riot town

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The Independent Online

The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh travelled to the "back of beyond" in the Australian outback today to a town called Bourke.

The small settlement of 3,600 people, 500 miles north west of Sydney, is down-at-heel and renowned for the wrong reasons.

Tensions exploded three years ago when hundreds of disaffected Aborigines rampaged along the main street, smashing shops and cars.

Bourke is a byword in Australia for the remote outback. "Back 'o Bourke" means the back of beyond or middle of nowhere in Aussie-speak.

In Bourke, the authorities are grappling with serious drink, drugs and race problems.

The Royal visitors saw the town's "success" stories: the mixed-race primary school; an Aboriginal community radio station; a fruit farm; and a cotton farm.

But Alice Edwards Village, an Aboriginal reserve on the edge of town, was not on the Royal itinerary.

Regarded as a no-go area for white people, unemployment is widespread, alcoholism is rife and living conditions are generally squalid.

Built on the banks of the Darling River, Bourke was a bustling port in the 19th century, with paddle-steamers transporting wool to markets from the vast sheep stations on the surrounding plains.

Now the townspeople are trying to rebuild their fortunes by bringing investment, jobs and tourists to the town.

What seemed like the entire population - plus people from out of town - turned up in Bourke's Central Park, sodden by the heaviest rain in more than a decade, to see and hear the Queen.

Accompanied by Prince Philip, she told them: "Flying here this morning has reminded us of the great distances between the rural communities in New South Wales. This sense of space is such a defining feature of the outback.

"Our visit today is giving us the chance to see the ways in which you are reducing those distances and strengthening your own community here in Bourke which is so very special to you all."

The Queen praised the work of the radio station, 2 CUZ FM, and of Bourke Public School.

"I was interested to learn that the rich aspects of Aboriginal culture are present in all the schools' programmes, and I have seen for myself the Aboriginal language class being conducted in the gardens of the radio station," she said.

"All communities need building with patience and understanding in ways such as these.

"It has been a great pleasure for us to come here today, to meet many of you, and to be able to give recognition to the way in which you, and so many Australians like you who live not in the cities but in Australia's wide open spaces, are contributing to the success of this great land of Australia."

Bourke, where one in three inhabitants is an Aborigine, is fiercely Royalist and voted to retain the monarchy at last November's referendum.

Town Mayor Councillor Wayne O'Mally told the Queen that Bourke was the "gateway to the real outback".

"Your Majesty, Queen of Australia, thank you for coming to Bourke, for recognition of the existence and achievements of the people of this area," he said.

Republican Premier of New South Wales Bob Carr said: "Bourke is a place in the Australian imagination. We value Bourke and all it represents."

Reconciliation between whites and Aborigines must succeed in Bourke, said Mr Carr.

"What happens here matters to the rest of Australia," he said.

:: The people of Coolabah were so disappointed when the Queen could not visit their remote homestead that the entire population - minus four Republicans - came to see her.

The 46 Royalists of Coolabah, who wrote to the Queen inviting her to visit, hired two coaches for the 150-mile journey to Bourke.

Anita McAlpine, 70, said: "We've come from Coolabah - all of us, except the four who voted for a Republic."

:: Security in Bourke was tight with large numbers of police, including bomb squad officers, checking the Royal route.