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Aborigines get a jump on voting

When the rest of Australia's 10.5 million voters head to the polls on Saturday, some 160,000 aborigines will have already cast their ballots. Scattered in tiny settlements throughout the rugged Northern Territories, the aborigines began voting nearly two weeks ago at mobile polling booths flown in by 16 special electoral commission teams. Using four-wheel drive vehicles, light aircraft, and a helicopter, the teams canvassed villages to ensure that every eligible aborigine had a chance to vote.

The 535 registered voters of the Tiwi tribe on tropical Bathurst Island, 50 miles north of Darwin, voted 13 days early so they could make a traditional ``walkabout'' in the bush, abandoning homes and jobs to teach their children tribal customs and survival.

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Voting is compulsory in Australia. Aborigines got the right to vote since 1967, but were not required to vote until 1984.

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