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Aboriginal woman's Aussie Senate bid brings abuse

By Rod McGuirk

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:17 a.m. HST, Sep 08, 2013

CANBERRA, Australia >> Facing the prospect of becoming the first Aboriginal woman to win a seat in Australia's Parliament, Nova Peris said today that she was targeted during her campaign by the worst onslaught of racial abuse she had ever endured.

After then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard hand-picked Peris in January to head the center-left Labor Party's Senate ticket in the Northern Territory -- an almost unbeatable position that virtually assured her place in Australian political history -- she was bombarded with hate letters and emails that were so extreme she passed them to police.

"It's not a nice feeling to be judged and looked down upon because of the color of your skin," Peris said Sunday. "I had a string of letters and emails sent to me and they were horrific. And my husband was really, really upset."

"They were pretty nasty. The worst I've ever seen in my life," she said, declining to go into details.

But the threats did not deter her, and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist hockey player contested the Senate seat in elections Saturday. She appeared comfortably ahead in vote counting Sunday, but was not yet ready to claim victory.

"It's like waiting for the result of a photo finish," said Peris, comparing her anxious wait for the count to be finalized to her days as a world-class sprinter.

Aborigines are a minority of only 600,000 in Australia's population of 23 million. The lack of Aboriginal representation in Parliament is a growing embarrassment for the leaders of major political parties.

No Aborigine had sat in Parliament before Neville Bonner arrived in 1971. The conservative Liberal Party senator, who had little formal education, was the only Aborigine in Parliament for the next 12 years before he was voted out.

In 1999, Aden Ridgeway, a senator from the minor Australian Democrats party, became the second Aborigine in Parliament, lasting for a single six-year term.

Liberal Ken Wyatt next won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010, although a constituent later wrote to complain that he had not advertised his Aboriginality in the campaign. The constituent said he would not have voted for Wyatt if he had known.

Wyatt was re-elected Saturday to a second three-year term in his Western Australia state electorate, with an increased majority.

Adam Giles became the chief minister of Peris' home state last year, and became the first Aboriginal head of a government.

Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, suffer poor health and lag behind in education. They die years younger than other Australians on average and are far more likely to be imprisoned.

Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has promised to work for a week each year as the nation's leader in an Outback Aboriginal settlement to draw attention to indigenous struggles. He failed last year in a bid to recruit an Aboriginal woman lawmaker from the Northern Territory government to contest a federal seat.

Peris, a 41-year-old who competed in two Olympics -- as a hockey player in 1996 and as a sprinter in 2000 -- said she experienced racism throughout her sporting career. But the racism was worse in Australia than when she traveled internationally to compete.

She said she was pleased, however, that Australia's major sporting bodies no longer tolerate racism of competitors or spectators.

"Racism is just ignorance," she said. "Australia certainly has come a long way when you look at the reforms that have happened in the highest levels of sports. There's no place for racism."

"We're talking about human beings, and it's all about how we contribute to society and what are we doing today to make Australia a better place for the kids," she said.

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livinginhawaii wrote:
She's got to be pretty ignorant not to have anticipated this. I mean, after all, she was running against the descendants of criminals - wouldn't you expect something like this from those that have the criminal gene?
on September 8,2013 | 12:41PM
nodaddynotthebelt wrote:
You would think that in this day and age that human beings would have evolved into much higher spiritual beings. But racism is still alive and well along with discrimination against those of a different sexual orientation. Ironically, this bigotry is promulgated and promoted by the very people who claim to about love, such as the Christians.
on September 8,2013 | 12:59PM
poidragon wrote:
Racism is a learned response, taught by others, it is not genetic or inherited!
on September 8,2013 | 02:39PM
Dimbulb wrote:
This article had nothing to do with sexual orientation, so why bring it up? Oh, just to promote the homosexual agenda. Don't blame Christians for all the bigotry. Why don't you go to Russia and take a look around. Most Russians are atheists and the country makes it a criminal offense to openly display homosexuality.
on September 9,2013 | 05:27AM
Slow wrote:
Substitute Hawaiians for Aborigines in this quote: "Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, suffer poor health and lag behind in education. They die years younger than other Australians on average and are far more likely to be imprisoned." Great western European bulldozer obliterates a native culture. Now, 200 years later, who do you blame for the current mess? I see, in Hawaii, a valiant effort to salvage, preserve and grow the Hawaiian culture. Those who take that path usually will not prosper in the material sense. Stay strong, you are rising.
on September 8,2013 | 05:23PM
MizuInOz wrote:
Obviously, you have never been to Australia or you would refrain from your comments. We here in Hawai'i have many more benefits and have endured less. Whether you want to accept that or not.. As recent as 1972, 17,000 Australian Aboriginal men, women and children were shipped off from their homes in Northern Queensland, so as not to subject the visiting Queen to such barbaric people; never to be heard of again. The Hawaiian people have lost much and there is much to retain and regain. It cannot be done in anger or hate. That will only come back to bite us. We must be better than those how TRIED to conquer. Remember that. It isn't just about "rising" - it is about thriving and living the true spirit of Aloha. Racism is born of fear. It is strong here in Hawaii, when you do not see everyone as a member of your family, you are living in the bowels of racism. We are all one. There are those who wish us to always be "us against them". We are better than that. My heart goes out to Nova Peris and I am proud that she kept going - no matter what. Malama pono.
on September 8,2013 | 07:03PM
Slow wrote:
Your thoughtful response is way better than most of the mean-spirited nonsense in the SA comments. I spent my life on Oahu. My wife was raised on Maui, worked Oahu for many years (sorry, honey, not that many) and now we're on the island of Hawaii. We both feel that Puna is the Hawaii of our childhood. If you can afford it, Civil Beat is quality local journalism with a comments section that is just a bit different than this one. You would like it.
on September 8,2013 | 09:29PM
copperwire9 wrote:
FINE comment. Mahalo.
on September 8,2013 | 10:33PM
GorillaSmith wrote:
Slow, My goodnes - what an appropriate name.Do you really believe the "Native" Hawaiians are the historical equivalent of the Aussie Aborigines? I would put the "settlers" from Minnesota on the same exalted level.
on September 9,2013 | 03:28AM
Grimbold wrote:
Aborigines are not looked down on because of the color of their skin. That is a misconception. The real reason is that most of them have not been able to adjust to modern civilization. Just google about their life style and unsavory house-keeping.
on September 9,2013 | 05:22AM
inHilo wrote:
Grimbold, Your comment is so far from being reality based that it's hard to imagine someone could actually believe it. "unsavory house-keeping"? "adjust to civilization"? Please get help, or at the very least do a Google search beyond "Top ten wacky ideas about aborigines that no one would ever believe." Peace, please.
on September 9,2013 | 06:05AM
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