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Tea Leaves

Protests highlight Australia's black-white divide

Despite diverse population, improving status of indigenous Aborigines is country's greatest challenge

When British explorer James Cook landed on Australia in 1770, humans had already been living there for 60,000 years. (Photo by Geoff Hiscock)

Growing up in Sydney in the 1950s and 1960s, the one "fact" I knew with certainty was that British explorer James Cook had discovered Australia in 1770. In history lessons at school the nomadic Aboriginal presence before Cook was barely mentioned, and we learnt nothing about the preceding 60,000-plus years of Aboriginal society and culture.

Cook met an unhappy end on a Hawaiian beach in February 1779, stabbed to death during a melee with native inhabitants. That was nine years before what Australians call the First Fleet arrived in what is now Sydney, carrying British colonizers and transported convicts, but it is statues of Cook, rather than the fleet commander Arthur Phillip, that have become targets for anti-racism protesters in Australia.

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