Aborigine nears victory as first indigenous member of Australia's House of Representatives

SYDNEY (AP) — An Aboriginal man appeared set for victory Monday in his quest to become the first indigenous person to win a seat in Australia's House of Representatives.

Ken Wyatt of the conservative Liberal Party held a thin lead in the Western Australia seat of Hasluck with 93 percent of the votes counted, with his rival Sharryn Jackson from the center-right Labor Party unlikely to catch up.

Australia has elected only two other Aborigines to federal Parliament, both in the Senate. Neville Bonner served in the Senate from 1971 to 1983, and Aden Ridgeway served from 1999 to 2005.

"In 50 years' time, historians and people will be analyzing why Hasluck chose an indigenous candidate — and what they'll discover is that they didn't choose an indigenous candidate because I was indigenous," Wyatt told reporters in Perth on Sunday. "They chose a person who they believe would represent the interests of everybody within Hasluck."

Neither the Liberals nor the ruling Labor party won enough seats in the Aug. 21 elections to achieve a majority in the 150-member chamber, where governments are formed. The two sides are now negotiating with a handful of independent lawmakers who hold the key to deciding which party forms the nation's next government.

Wyatt, 58, said he has received racist hate mail since the election, but doesn't plan to focus on the messages too much.

"I've had that all my life, growing up as an Aboriginal in the '60s, the '70s and the '80s," he said.

Wyatt is a former primary school teacher and previously served as director of the Office of Aboriginal Health in Western Australia. He said he grew up in a poor household and worked odd jobs during school vacations to support his family.

"I did that to put food on the table for my family and buy clothes, because we were relying on hand-me-downs," Wyatt said. "That taught me an ethos of working hard. Education is a major reason for my success."

His mother was a member of the "Stolen Generations" — tens of thousands of Aboriginal children forcibly taken from their families under state and federal laws in a bid to make them grow up like white Australians.