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CNN Today

Olympic Torch Serves as Symbol of Unity for Australia

Aired June 8, 2000 - 2:55 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: The Olympic torch has arrived in Australia for the first time in 44 years.

ANDRIA HALL, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. A nationwide relay will carry the flame on its 99-day countdown to the Sydney Games in September.

Hugh Williams reports on the symbolism surrounding the torch relay.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HUGH WILLIAMS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Flying in from New Zealand, the plane carrying the Olympic flame touches down in the heart of Australia, marking the beginning of one of the longest torch relays in Olympic history.

In clear skies, but with cold blustery winds, the flame, enclosed in a safety lantern, is carried out by the nation's governor general and paraded for spectators and cameras. Further on at Uluru, formerly known as Ayers Rock, and struggling against the strong winds, the torch is lit -- but not without some difficulty -- and begins its long journey around the country.

The symbolism of the location is clear. With reconciliation between white and black Australians an important national issue, the first to hold the torch are the traditional Aboriginal landowners of Uluru. And runner number one, the first Aboriginal Australian to win an Olympic gold medal.

NOVA PERIS-KNEEBONE, OLYMPIC TORCH BEARER: Today is the start of something very, very special, I think. You know, we're showcasing the world -- our culture to the world -- and the Mijulu (ph) people, we should be very grateful that they've allowed all of us to come onto their land and for this special ceremony to take place. So, it's an incredible day for all Australians.

WILLIAMS: Over the next several months, the torch will travel thousands of kilometers throughout Australia and pass through more than 10,000 pairs of hands on its way to Sydney. The journey will include an underwater leg at the Great Barrier Reef, a camel ride, and a trip across Sydney Harbor in a ferry boat.

The 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney kick off with a spectacular opening ceremony on September 15th.

Hugh Williams, for CNN, Sydney.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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