Wed, Aug 09, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Australians grow more openminded about ethnicity

REVOLUTION In the past, Aborigines were not included in the country's census, but there seems to be a growing acceptance of the `native' identity

AFP , SYDNEY

The changing face of modern Australia, in which convict ancestors and Aboriginal blood have become badges of pride, will be reflected in a national census conducted yesterday.

Forty years ago, the man chosen to promote this year's census in newspaper and television advertisements was not counted as part of the Australian population because he was an Aborigine.

Ernie Dingo, a 50-year-old entertainer, was not deemed to exist in the 1961 and 1966 censuses, which ignored "wild" Aborigines.

It was only on May 27, 1967 that Australians voted in a referendum to repeal a section of the Constitution which stated: "In reckoning the numbers of the people ... Aboriginal natives shall not be counted."

Dingo and his eight siblings were finally tallied at the next five-yearly census in 1971, where a total of 115,953 people identified themselves as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin.

Thirty years later, in the 2001 census, the figure had soared to 410,003 -- an increase the Australian Bureau of Statistics says is in part due to a growing willingness to be identified as Aboriginal.

The figure is tipped to rise to 469,000 this year -- above the birthrate -- and is likely to include many who look as white as the next settler in this nation of immigrants.

For some, this reflects pride in having a touch of the blood of the original inhabitants of the continent in their veins, and for others the chance to access special privileges for Aborigines.

There is also increasing pride in Australia's convict past, illustrated by the government's listing last year of a former prison -- built by the convicts themselves -- as a national heritage site along with the famed Sydney Opera House.

"Convicts who were sent to the Australian colonies for punishment played a major role in our nation's early development, bringing skills, strength and spirit to a new homeland," Heritage Minister Ian Campbell said at the time.

A total of 162,000 convicts were deported by Britain to its new colonies in Australia from 1788 -- a past once viewed with some embarrassment.

But with almost one in four modern Australians born overseas, there is now a certain cachet in a connection to the first settlers, many of whom were shipped out to for crimes as petty as stealing a loaf of bread.

The census is expected to reveal a population of more than 20 million people for the first time, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics predicting 20,595,774 inhabitants of this vast continent.

The bureau guarantees confidentiality but has asked people to tick a box allowing their completed form to be sealed and held by the National Archives in a time capsule for 99 years, when it will be opened for genealogists and historians.

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