Aborigines cast first votes in Australian poll

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CANBERRA, Nov 12 (Reuters) Aborigines in a tiny, remote community in Australia's outback cast the first votes in the nation's national elections today, queuing under the shade of a tin shed which became a makeshift polling booth.

About 80 mainly Aboriginal voters were the first to vote at the remote Kybrook Farm, a tropical settlement about 220 km south of the Northern Territory capital Darwin, almost two weeks before the rest of Australia votes on November 24.

While the first votes will remain locked up until they are counted on election day, conservative Prime Minister John Howard appeared to trailing his Labor challenger Kevin Rudd.

''It's time for a change I think. I think we all think that,'' early voter Daphne Huddlestone, who travelled to the settlement from the nearby Pine Creek township, told Australian Associated Press.

The vote was part of the Australian Electoral Commission's remote polling programme, which will see 37 mobile polling teams visit more than 390 remote locations to over the next two weeks.

Using four-wheel drives, boats and light planes, election officials will criss-cross the Australian outback and visit remote islands to give all Australians the chance to vote, dropping in at mines, pastoral properties and tiny communities.

At Kybrook Farm, families sat on the grass under the shade of palms and gum trees, while voting took place in the community shed.

Orange-shirted officials were on hand to help with voting, along with a television screen showing how to vote.

Voting is compulsory for 13.6 million Australians aged over 18 years old.

The man in charge of the vote, Electoral Commissioner Ian Campbell, said officials were promoting the mobile polling booths through letters to community organisations and through posters, radio and television advertising.

''Local assistants will be recruited to identify, interpret and assist with the special needs of indigenous electors at many of the remote mobile polling locations,'' Campbell said in a statement.

REUTERS RJ SSC1408

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