I note with particular interest the comment by Betty Pearce, “a prominent senior Aboriginal woman, (who) said the government would be too “afraid to do anything drastic” on grog issues, because it would affect whitefellas’ economic interests.
“She criticised the failure of the Intervention to provide rehabilitation and counselling services in communities, and fired a broadside at land councils (presumably relevant to the Intervention generally, rather than to grog measures in particular): “While land councils are in control, you’ll never get anything done.”
I thought it might be interesting to enlarge a little on Mrs Pearce’s comments, especially in relation to grog measures. For example, she stated that she “believes education against the bad influences of liquor should begin in grade one of primary school.
“What I learned before the age of eight has stayed with me.
“Those people here tonight who have religious convictions were all brought up with religion at birth.”
She said that if children were educated from birth we wouldn’t have the problems we face today.
“And you are the businessmen who should help,” she said to the audience, “because you are the people who are getting richer at the expense of the Aboriginal person.
“You’ll have to keep the Aboriginal person alive, won’t you?”
Oh, hang on a moment, I’m quoting from another meeting! These comments were reported in the story “Liquor main illness cause” by Jill Bottrall, published on the front page of the Centralian Advocate of Friday, 29 October 1982, which covered the public forum called by the Alice Springs Town Council earlier that week on what to do about the burgeoning alcohol abuse and associated problems affecting Alice Springs.
Betty Pearce was one of four guest speakers at this forum on account of “her involvement with the Congress rehabilitation farm”.
This was the story that reported that 20 out of every 22 admissions to the Alice Springs Hospital was due to alcohol-related causes, according to the then Chief Surgeon, Dr Charles Butcher.
This meeting was the prelude to the NT Government’s introduction of the 2km restriction law that commenced operation on 1 January, 1983. It also coincided with the announcement by the Minister for Health, Ian Tuxworth, on the creation of sobering up shelters for people taken into protective custody.
Almost three decades ago all of this occurred – gee, so what’s changed?
For good measure, here’s another quote: “It is fair to say that a large bulk of the money available to problem drinkers in Alice Springs arises from Social Security payments intended for the support of the recipient and his or her dependants to meet the basic [my emphasis] living needs of shelter, food, clothing, transport etc.
“This, significantly, is now being voiced as a basic concern by members of the Aboriginal community themselves. I recently met in Alice Springs with Aboriginal women and senior men representing communities from all over the Centralian area.
“At those meetings I was told, in the starkest possible terms, of the family neglect, social dysfunction and breakdown of traditional values arising from the ‘urban drift’ of Aboriginal people leaving their home areas in favour of accessibility of liquor in Alice Springs.”
This is from a letter by Chief Minister Marshall Perron to Hon. Robert Tickner, the federal Minister for Aboriginal Affairs; and to Senator Graham Richardson, Minister for Social Security; dated 24 May 1990, pleading for Commonwealth assistance to deal with crime and anti-social issues that peaked earlier that year.
More than 5400 cases of protective custody had been recorded for Alice Springs from January to April that year, and Alice Springs “normally” recorded an average of nearly 11,000 such cases annually (from a population of about 22,000 at the time, although it’s important to note the overwhelming majority of the protective custody records were dealing with relatively few people).
In my younger and more naive years I used to attend such public meetings and forums, because I thought maybe – at last – some progress would come of them.
The last one I attended was an “emergency” public meeting under the Todd Mall sails in 1995, chaired by the late Charles Perkins.
These days I’ve got better things to do with my time.