The referendum was defeated in every state of the country
The referendum was defeated in every state of the country. AFP

Aboriginal Australian leaders ended their vow of silence on Monday to denounce millions of their compatriots for rejecting a landmark push for Indigenous rights, saying that the referendum result would be "etched into Australia's history forever".

Simmering racial divisions were exposed earlier this month when just over 60 percent of Australians voted against a referendum to acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders within the 1901 constitution.

In the wake of the result, many Indigenous leaders embarked on a "week of silence", asking for time to grieve what they saw as a crushing rejection at the hands of Australia's white majority.

Some leaders ended that silence in a scathing open letter addressed to the government, criticising the "appalling and mean-spirited" outlook of millions of Australians.

"The truth is that the majority of Australians have committed a shameful act whether knowingly or not, and there is nothing positive to be interpreted from it," read the letter.

The authors said history would not look kindly on those who opposed the referendum.

"It will remain unbelievable and appalling for decades to come," they wrote.

"While this moment will be etched into Australia's history forever, today we think of our children, and our children's children," the letter added.

If passed, the reforms would have created a consultative body -- a so-called "Voice" to parliament -- to help tackle the inequalities that plague Aboriginal communities.

The referendum was defeated in every state of the country, despite being backed by Australia's centre-left government, leading sports stars, celebrities and corporations.

The group behind the letter blamed a lack of bipartisanship -- conservative opposition leader Peter Dutton was vehemently against the proposal -- while also taking aim at "lies in political advertising and communication".

The deluge of "deliberate disinformation" unleashed a "tsunami of racism against our people", the letter said.

Outlandish social media posts suggested the "Voice" would lead to land seizures, create a South African-style system of apartheid or was part of a United Nations plot.

The open letter was based on the views of Indigenous leaders, community members and organisations who supported the "yes" case.

Indigenous "yes" campaigner Sean Gordon said the letter had been left unsigned so that Indigenous people across the country could commit to it.

Deputy Prime Minister Richard Marles on Monday said the referendum result was "not what I hoped".

"We will work with Indigenous Australians about the way forward," he added, when asked about the letter.

Australia's centre-left Prime Minister Anthony Albanese launched the referendum hoping to unite the country and address historical injustices.

Instead, it exposed racial fault lines that persist more than two centuries after British colonisation of the continent.

While the vast majority of Aboriginal Australians supported the referendum, some opposed it as a token measure that would not drive meaningful change.

Albanese has vowed that his government will continue working towards Indigenous recognition -- although it is unclear what options remain.

The referendum result has also slowed plans for treaties with Indigenous people at the state level in Queensland and New South Wales.

Aboriginal Australians make up 3.8 percent of the country's 26 million inhabitants.

They are considered to have one of the world's oldest cultures -- but remain far more likely to die young, live in poverty be imprisoned than other Australians.

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