Aussies turn clock back as fiesta begins

Past the theme but aboriginals protest against 'Stolenwealth Games'

Aussies turn clock back as fiesta begins

Australia celebrated its heritage and native traditions in a captivating Commonwealth Games opening ceremony but protests by aboriginals against the very idea of the Commonwealth came as a poignant reminder of the colonial brutalities.

Ironically, Australia's past was the central theme of the ceremony which lasted a little over two hours under overcast and often drizzling skies.

The buzz that seemed lacking in the build-up to the Games was very much there during the ceremony, attended by the British Royals, as Gold Coast turned out in numbers to welcome 71 nations of the Commonwealth.

The Indian contingent, led by Olympic silver-medallist P V Sindhu, walked out to a warm reception from the nearly 25,000 strong crowd which filled up the stadium that will also host the athletics event as well.

The Indians ditched tradition for comfort in the ceremony, marching out in blazers and trousers instead of the conventional sarees and bandhgalas.

But the festivities inside could not completely mask the protests by aboriginal groups, who raised slogans and blocked the Queen's Baton Relay for close to an hour at The Spit area of the city.

They protested against the brutalities committed during Britain's conquest and insisted that the country should have nothing to do with the Commonwealth, given the land and a generation that was "stolen" by the colonial masters.

The party went on nonetheless, with  Prince Charles declaring the Games open.

Despite the protests outside, the ceremony drew heavily on Aboriginal culture and symbolism, with 11-year-old Isabella Graham starting the countdown with a message on a smartphone welcoming competitors, officials and fans to the "oldest living culture on Earth".

Aborigines inhabited Australia more than 50,000 years before the First Fleet sailed into Botany Bay near Sydney in 1788 after the country had been declared 'terra nullius', or unoccupied.

Aboriginal musicians also played didgeridoos while children from the local Yugambeh people performed traditional dances before Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall were accompanied by local elders Ted Williams and Patricia O'Connor.

Williams and O'Connor welcomed all of the competitors, officials and fans on behalf of the traditional custodians of the land.

"Jingeri," O'Connor said, a traditional Yugambeh welcome. "On behalf of the Yugambeh people, I welcome you.

"This ceremony tonight is an acknowledgement of the truth of our past. The power of the future and an invitation to stand together united."

The strong beach and surf culture of the city of about 640,000 that sits some 80-kilometres south of Brisbane was also heavily referenced throughout the ceremony.

The Games were officially opened after about two-and-a-half hours when world hurdles champion Sally Pearson presented the Queen's Baton to Prince Charles, ending its 388-day and 230,000-km journey.

"The ancient stories of the indigenous people of Australia remind us that even though we may be half a world away we are all connected," the Prince said as he read the Queen's message.

"Over the years these friendly Games have showed the potential of the Commonwealth to connect people of different backgrounds and nationalities.

"In this spirit of co-operation and togetherness, common ground has been established and enduring friendships forged."

 

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