Comment by RUSSELL GUY.
Image: A child’s drawing found in a beer garden beside the Stuart Highway, NT.
Ella Simon was an Aboriginal woman whose affectionate, white father lived near Taree in New South Wales, while she grew up on nearby Purfleet Mission, in the years before WW2. Ella married and farmed vegetables with her husband for the Army during the war, before writing an account of her life, Through My Eyes (1978: 126). In those days, Aboriginal people weren’t allowed to visit hotels or any other licensed place. They weren’t allowed to be in possession of alcohol. It was a total ban, but as Ella notes “there was always some ‘sympathetic’ white man ready to buy his black ‘pals’ a drink or two, or sell it to them for a bit of profit, and this was the cause of a lot of the disturbances – the white man willing to give it to the black man if there was something in it for him. Oh sure, the white man who did that might be given a big fine to pay. But the poor Aboriginal was always put in gaol. . . . Gaol sentences stopped nothing. Even with the ‘big boss’ Manager always there ready to stop booze coming in to the reserve. How could you really stop it, when all around white people were drinking, and drinking as much as they liked without being sent to gaol for it?”
As the Alice Springs prison system overflows, it’s clear that not much has changed in the past eighty years. There’s an argument that “people drink for different reasons”, but with the annual, national cost of servicing abuse at $15b, a case can be made for the State to draw a line with a regulatory process aimed at reducing both this cost and unacceptable levels of self-harm.
Aboriginal society, a small fraction of the Australian population, has been devastated in just forty years of unrestricted exposure to alcohol. The 2007 Little Children Are Sacred report notes that some remote indigenous communities have been destroyed and are now involved in formulating Alcohol Management Plans under the Commonwealth Stronger Futures legislation.
While statistics reveal that Alice Springs has twice national average consumption and related crime, it, like Newcastle and now Broome, is a good example of the need for increased regulation, rather than, as Town Councillors seem to recommend, a winding-back of current restrictions. Excessive alcohol consumption cannot be fixed by law and order solutions while there’s a seven days per week access through take-away outlets. It is the biggest contributor to the focus on public consumption, which is mostly the province of the Indigenous consumer, who suffers the legislation and whose numbers are swollen by urban drift.
Opinions on how to deal with this “anti-social” behavior are centred on zero-tolerance law and order and mandatory rehabilitation, both of which are extremely expensive options. They have been poorly thought out and some proposals along this line recommend “locking them up” for the term of their natural life.
An economic and socially accepted solution is required. A take-away alcohol restriction has been suggested by several commentators. This is a non-expensive option and therefore needs to be considered, rather than casually dismissed as has been the case, especially when it has never been tried in Alice and, despite claims to the contrary, was statistically successfully in reducing consumption in Tennant Creek when it ceased in 2006.
The real problem for its demise was the Centrelink payments schedule. It can be tailored to function successfully in Alice Springs and deserves serious consideration by inter-active government departments and community organizations. At present, most of the talk is about what worked in Port Augusta, rather than closer to home.
Options so far presented are the proverbial “band-aid” solutions, but the real question is, does Alice Springs, a town with ebbing iconic charisma, have the vision to take a stand for responsible regulation? Time will tell, but increased restrictions interstate seem to recognize that Australia is on the slippery slope.
IMAGE: A collection of one litre Hardys chardonnay bottles from the John Flynn church lawns – 32 bottles over 10 hours on March 31. They are sold by Woolworths bottleshop for $9.90 (or 99 cents per standard drink) – PHOTO by David Hewitt.
Alice Springs' ebbing iconic charisma
Comment by RUSSELL GUY.