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The BBC's Jennie Bond
"Support for the monarchy is strongest in rural areas like this"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 22 March, 2000, 13:21 GMT
Queen visits 'Back of Beyond'
Queen and aborigines
The Queen walks past Aborigine Ngemba Muranari dancers
The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh have travelled to the "back of beyond" during their tour of Australia.

Fresh from the high-rise world of Sydney - with its glittering, hi-tech Olympic Stadium - the royal couple travelled to a very different Australia and met members of the country's Aborigine community.

The remote settlement of Bourke, 500 miles north west of Sydney, has only 3,600 residents.

"Back 'o Bourke" means the back of beyond or middle of nowhere in Aussie-speak.

The town has a reputation for racial tension and three years ago hundreds of disaffected Aborigines rampaged along the main street, smashing shops and cars.

'Success stories'

The authorities are grappling with serious drink and drugs problems and black unemployment is high.

The Queen and Prince Philip were shown the town's success stories: a mixed-race primary school, an Aboriginal community radio station, a fruit farm and a cotton farm.

Queen in Bourke
The Queen receives flowers from children during a royal walkabout
But there was no place on the itinerary for Alice Edwards Village, an Aboriginal ghetto on the edge of town which many white people regard as a no-go area.

Built on the banks of the Darling river in the 19th century, Bourke was once a bustling part with paddle-steamers carrying wool from the surrounding sheep stations on the first stage of their journey to the markets of the British Empire.

But the town fell on hard times and now the authorities are trying to rebuild its fortunes through tourism and diversified agriculture.

On Wednesday hundreds of people turned up in the town's Central Park, to see and hear the royal couple.

'Strengthening your community'

The Queen, made a round trip of almost 1,200 miles from Canberra for the visit which lasted barely 90 minutes.

She said: "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.

Police in Bourke
Security was tight in Bourke
"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."

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."

'Need for reconciliation'

Councillor Wayne O'Mally, mayor of the staunchly royalist town, replied: "Your Majesty, Queen of Australia, thank you for coming to Bourke, for recognition of the existence and achievements of the people of this area."

The republican Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr, welcomed steps taken in Bourke to promote reconciliation between whites and Aborigines.

He said: "What happens here matters to the rest of Australia."

Following the knife scare in Sydney, security in Bourke was tight with large numbers of police, including bomb squad officers, checking the Royal route.

'A funny day'

On her return the Queen attended a State Banquet at Government House in Canberra.

"I've had a funny day," she told Prime Minister John Howard.

The Queen
The Queen donned diamonds for a State Banquet
The Queen, wore a white pearl embroidered lace dress, Queen Mary's 1921 diamond tiara, three-string necklace of 105 diamonds and the garter star of the Australian Order, for the occasion.

She and Prince Philip are due to fly to Melbourne on Thursday after completing the New South Wales leg of their Australian tour.

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