Sat, Feb 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Australian police ban traditional topless dancing


A row erupted here yesterday over a police ban on traditional Aboriginal women doing as they have done for 70,000 years -- dance topless in public.

Aborigines are furious that a group of traditional Aboriginal women were moved on by police, including an Aboriginal officer, from a public park in Alice Springs last week because they were dancing without their tops.

The women pointed out that dancing topless is part of Aboriginal culture and millions of people around the world have seen them dancing like that on television, such as at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Olympics in 2000.

The women, from the remote Aboriginal community of Papunya near Alice Springs, were practising the traditional ceremony ahead of an exhibition performance in Sydney.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) commissioner Alison Anderson said she is considering an urgent, formal complaint to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

Anderson, ATSIC's only female commissioner, said she would defy authorities to dance topless at a ceremony in Alice Springs this afternoon.

"This is part of our law, this is part of our culture, this is what makes us Aboriginal," Anderson told ABC radio.

"They were just starting to paint the young girls up when two police officers approached them on motorbikes and one happened to be an Aboriginal.

"One would have thought that APCO [Aboriginal community police officers] get employed to teach white police cultural stuff. This is really insulting that an Aboriginal man approached a group of Aboriginal women.

"These women have been at the forefront of land rights, native title."

The Central Land Council, which represents traditional owners, called on the local authorities to reconsider the ban and for an immediate apology from police.

"This is part of our culture and thousands and thousands of people around the world have seen Aboriginal ladies dancing without their tops on television, theaters and many public occasions," CLC chairman Kunmanara Breaden said.

"Just a few weeks ago, the Warumungu ladies welcomed the [Adelaide-Darwin] train to Tennant Creek -- dancing without their tops -- and everybody loved it.

"This issue needs some common sense and the minister for police should be ringing his workers now and telling them to stop being stupid and grow up."

The police said they stood by their officers' actions.

Acting Commander Southern Region Trevor Bell said police had yet to receive a formal complaint.

"While police are sensitive to cultural issues which arise from time to time, we support the actions of one of our members to move on [the women]."

He said any member of the public was entitled to pursue a complaint through the proper channels.

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