Recent violence between Aborigines and whites in the Australian outback has spotlighted a touchy racial situation in a country that is otherwise known for strong opposition to racism.
Despite its hard line on South African apartheid and its open doors to Asian and other immigrants, Australia has not fully come to grips with rural white discrimination against the country's indigenous Aborigines.
The latest racial unrest occurred in the farming town of Moree, New South Wales, (population 11,000, of which 3,000 are Aborigines), which has a history of racial trouble. The incident began as a barroom brawl when the bar's owner allegedly asked Aborigines to leave. A 19-year-old Aborigine was shot dead. Police investigators arrived from Sydney and two whites were charged soon afterward with murder.
The town frequently has such fights in barrooms and schoolyards. Occasionally there are riots. Local Aborigines say the town's police reflect the views of the majority of whites, who typically consider most Aborigines to be drunks or bums on welfare.
New South Wales, however, is widely considered to be more sympathetic than some other states to Aboriginal charges of discrimination. Queensland, and to some extent Western Australia, are said to have the most serious racial problems. No federal government has yet really pushed them to carry out legislation that would aid Aborigines, although under Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser, funding for Aboriginal programs is considerable and officials are making the most serious efforts to date to end such discrimination.
But in Queensland, state politicians sometimes make openly racist statements. Aboriginal claims to land rights are fiercely resisted, and the Aborigines' relations with state police are poor. The picture of neglect and indifference there appears to continue unabated.
New South Wales authorities say that, in the wake of the Moree unrest, they will devote more energy to combating racism and improving the Aborigines' situation.
But a state government spokesman cautions, ''While we can pass laws to prohibit them (racist whites) from voicing their insidious views publicly, we cannot legislate against what lies in their hearts.''
New South Wales Attorney-General Frank Walker says he has pushed for Aboriginal rights for 20 years ''but until recently the majority of the community . . . weren't with me.''
Aborigines number 175,000 out of Australia's 15 million people.
Other ethnic groups - particularly Asians, who constitute a third of the country's current annual immigrants - are thriving in business and the professions. Other large immigrant groups - Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, and Lebanese - are also bullish on Australia, often displaying fierce pride in their new country. Polynesians, Melanesians, and even Africans, West Indians, and blacks from the United States make few complaints about discrimination here.
Australia's image in the third world is one of opposition to racism. This is fed by the country's hard line on South African apartheid, its abolition of its former ''White Australia'' immigration policies, and its welcome to Asians and others. But the Australian white majority's relations with these groups are far better than with the indigenous Aborigines.