COMMENT by RUSSELL GUY
Around 7am on Saturday, I pulled up in the almost deserted CBD, but couldn’t get out of my car because 98.7 Gold was playing Stevie Wonder’s Living for the City, a song about an Afro-American family from “small town Mississippi” trying to overcome dirt-poor status. I once stumbled upon Stevie playing a small keyboard at an Aboriginal community on the outskirts of Cairns, in the late 1980s.
While waiting for a café to open in the Mall, I strolled to the back of Adelaide House, where some Port Lincoln parrots gently fed from fallen dates beside a couple of Major Mitchell galahs on the lawn. Further back, under the trees, were five empty bottles of Hardy’s Chardonnay, featuring a little red sticker advertising “33% more than a regular 750ml” in a smoky, green bottle promising “11 standard drinks” with 13.5% alcohol content. Nearby were three 750 ml Yellow Tail Chardonnay empties at “7.4 standard drinks”. A couple of Penfolds Rawsons Retreat reds completed the picture among half a dozen VB cans. Ten empty wine bottles laying in the grass, in the middle of the CBD early Saturday morn, an incongruous sight beside the beautiful native birds at the rear of Rev. Flynn’s old hospital, the first in Central Australia, built less than ninety years ago by public conscription.
It reminded me of recent research that I’d read, stating that the alcohol content and market share of wine had increased, largely unnoticed over the past twenty years (ABC RN transcript, 22/11/10) as a result of increased discretionary income and sophistication demanding a “decent” bottle of wine, which local manufacturer’s met by increasing the alcohol content in the pre-GFC years. How many more are hooked now that the boom years have subsided and stats are out showing very dangerous drinking rates among young bingers and other high-risk drinkers? Perhaps, the words “peel off here” on the “33% more” sticker is a concession to bourgeois guilt or shame on behalf of blood money marketeers?
There used to be a vegetable garden where these bottles lay, before cunning marketers who, only a few years ago, introduced the thirty can VB “barbecue pack” with carry handles as more convenient than lugging a twenty four can slab. “More” is the name of the game. Cheap casks of Chardonnay are withdrawn in supermarkets around town and out come the “33% more” bottles of glut valley Chardy!
I couldn’t help but think back to Justice Muirhead’s days on the NT Supreme Court bench, circa 1986, when he referred to glass flagons as weapons of death, after a lawyer remarked that “no one could be stabbed with a cask, your Honour.” From memory, the beak said that vested interest made it difficult to outlaw the glass flagon. Twenty-five years later, here we are again with the “33% more”, one litre, long-neck, weapon of death, sold through take-away outlets, while some mercenaries who aspire to lead the town describe any attempt at remedy as racial discrimination and support an unregulated, free market for alcohol retailers. Who can afford these policies? And yet both NT political parties accept campaign donations from the liquor industry. It’s all a bit of a tragic joke which makes mockery of well intentioned citizens eager for a solution to the daily misery. With apologies to Gene Pitney, where is the moral fibre, backbone and responsible leadership in this town without pity?
During the Eighties, I dialed 000 one night as half a dozen young men were left lying, stabbed with flagon shards when a fight broke out on a dance floor that I regularly promoted, so imagine my droll reaction when seated in the Mall last Saturday, as I saw a young bloke carrying one of the new “33% more” empties. I said to my friend, “he’s carrying a weapon.” Within seconds and metres from our table, he smashed it over the head of another bloke, who pulled a knife. Simultaneously, a middle-aged woman came up to our table and held the stump of an amputated hand in my face while chopping at it with the other hand. Earlier in the day, I’d heard a news report about a new body – the Alcohol Advertising Review Board – stating that “the liquor industry could not self-regulate” and that targeting young people in advertising was about to receive some attention, but it falls on deaf ears in this “small town Mississippi.”
The point is that these bottles came from take-away outlets – the pubs operate seven days a week. The afternoon’s macabre cabaret proved that, so far, nothing and nobody can stop them from providing this nouveau fascination for a new generation of less experienced observers. In the early Eighties, CAAMA radio played NYC-based, Grand Master Flash’s proto-Hip Hop, rap, the scratch-mix The Message … “broken glass everywhere, people pissing in the street, don’t .. push .. me, I’m close to the edge.” Thirty years later, our political leaders still don’t get the message, but I’ve spoken to a couple of newcomerlice Springs Town Council candidates in recent days that support take-away sales free days as do some businesses in the Mall.
It’s time for these and any others to declare their hand against the direction of “zero tolerance law and order – change for the better” policies, which are out of step with the nation on impending alcohol reform. Let’s do this to prevent the NT continuing to have the highest rate of imprisonment and hospitalisation in the country for alcohol-related abuse. It’s obvious to any sane observer that the lock’em-up approach is not working and while these insanely liberal policies steer away from alcohol reform, the National Alcohol Action Alliance has released its position statement, revealing that the cost to taxpayers of alcohol abuse is $15billion per year (NAAA policy papers. March, 2012). Wake up, Australia!
What’s wrong with a take-away ban (naughty word) for part of the week as a major step towards regulating the escalating, alcohol-related violence? It would give the police a break, so they can move on black marketers and property crime, while putting some control into the situation, where responsible consumption in the pubs and clubs is monitored. Rehabilitation and Dry Out Centres wouldn’t be sending clients back to the battle-lines for more of the same constant take-away psychosis. Demented rampage, anyone? More death? More law and order?
If take-away was banned from Sunday to Wednesday inclusive, then it’s a good bet that Thursday to Saturday, in the short term, at least, will be the Devil’s Big Days Out, but more likely curtailed from a Big Night Out if the hours are set at 12 noon to 4pm – you can still get your take-away during lunch hour as a concession to cleaning up the town.
One of the big changes over the past 30 years is that violence is overflowing town camps into the streets. That indicates that not only are things getting worse, but that, more importantly, these people need help. The source of this supply is take-away. Unless something is done to restrict it – law and order tactics will not constrain it, and Alice will continue to be trashed. That’s the message of living for the city in this urban drift.
There’s an epitaph on the grave of one of the first believers in the faith of the Hermannsburg Lutheran missionaries, dating from the 1880s, belonging to old Moses Raberaba, the subject of a new book by Peter Latz. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever. In those days, alcohol was banned and missionaries got the blame for corrupting the culture. I have no wish to defend the Church, because in some denominations, the social Gospel is a case of the blind leading the blind into a ditch, but going on present indications in liberal democratic countries, corruption under free market legislation is about as bad as it gets. The new Alcohol Advertising Review Board refers to alcohol advertising as a “tsunami” and is about to apply some pressure. In a week’s time, Alice votes for a new Council. Let’s see some candidates willing to come out on days free from take-away alcohol sales as an emergency trial measure, subject to twelve months evaluation. It’s up to the community to prevent alcohol-related child abuse and neglect by showing leadership and voting accordingly.
IMAGE: The new “Peel off here” – “33% more” sticker on the trendy new bottle.
COMMENT by RUSSELL GUY