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Australia Marks Union Anniversary

By Mike Corder, Associated Press, Sunday 31 December 2000, 9:09 PM ET

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - A dawn ceremony in Australia's desert heartland on Monday opened festivities marking the 100th anniversary of the day Australia's provinces united as one country. Seven men from the Arrernte tribe beat sticks in a sand bed of the dry Todd River in the central city of Alice Springs soon after dawn in a symbolic message to all Australians to join the party.

Later Monday, Prime Minister John Howard and Governor General William Deane - the British queen's representative in government - joined state leaders in recreating the Jan. 1, 1901 ceremony that marked federation.

Howard called the centenary an opportunity to reflect on the country's history.

The Australian achievement of the last 100 years has been massive, by any standard,a> Howard told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio.

We've gone through depression, we've gone through enormous changes of mass migration, we've gone through the challenges of modernization and globalization - and yet we do remain a very cohesive society,a> he said. That, I believe, is our crowning achievement.a>

Tens of thousands of people were expected in downtown Sydney for an afternoon street parade, followed by a party in a city park.

Settled in the years after the first British convicts arrived in Sydney in 1788, Australia's six states agreed to unite into the Commonwealth of Australia the first day of 1901.

The agreement, which followed a referendum and years of debate about the form of the nation's government, was approved by the British Parliament. Although Australians were looking forward to the party, a survey last year revealed not many know their history - only 18 percent of them could name the country's first prime minister, Edmund Barton.

Australia's constitution remains controversial, and some politicians have vowed to use the year of celebrations to re-ignite their effort to replace the British queen - the symbolic head of state - with a homegrown president. The proposal was roundly defeated in a November 1999 referendum.