Wednesday, May 29, 2024

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HomeIssue 3Another day in the bush on the grog

Another day in the bush on the grog

It’s 2am.  Can’t sleep, again.  Get up to find the stars quietly hanging in the sky.
Yesterday, I hosted a lunch with the Chronic Preventative Health worker from Alice Springs who’d come out bush to try and get some support for Indigenous people who are failing to take their medication for diabetes, obesity and hypertension as they move closer to dialysis.
One man and three women turned up along with four children, all girls. The man she principally sought and tried to get to the lunch was intoxicated by 11am.
I told her this was the way it had been for the past 18 months with this forty-five year old, talented, bi-lingual remote community man who’d had a stroke at that time.
When he paints, which is not often anymore, he paints the old cultural ways of hunting, but lives in modern chaos.  It’s a poignant observation, personally.
One of the women spent thirty fruitless minutes on the telephone to Centrelink trying to get some money put into her Basics Card access welfare account.  She did not succeed.  How else can she survive and contribute to the upkeep of the children?  There is no work for her.
The husband of one of the women (and their four kids) is hiding from a police warrant on two counts of DUI for failing to show at Ti Tree Magistrates Court recently.
I have tried to support him.  I found him crying in a forty-four gallon drum not so long ago over the death of a family member.  He has lost three to my knowledge in the past 18 months. Another family man in his early forties is in gaol now for domestic violence.  His fourth stretch on alcohol-related offences in the past five years.
Car loads of people loaded their individual six packs this morning. Police recently busted a bloke with 27kgs of marijuana hidden in a fuel tank. I have heard from the horse’s mouth that the BDR cut sales of alcohol and profits considerably.  It also sent a message that domestic violence is not acceptable and you will be put on the BDR if convicted.
There is nothing to do for a lot of these people except to drink most days. They’re alcoholics.  It is demoralizing to see this for the past five years with small improvements, i.e., one step forward and then two steps backwards and so on – a fatal quickstep that continues.
I’ve only been back four weeks after a prolonged Christmas break to mend my own health.  I am proving less effective as the years go on.   It’s a constant physical and emotional attack and no surprise to see a generation of middle-aged Aboriginal men being picked off, one by one through alcohol-related issues.
I feel like I’m in a war zone most of the time where the bullets come in beer cans and bottles of wine.  The young men think they’re bullet-proof in a culture which encourages them, but it destroys them too..
Late in the day, I saw the man who’d had a stroke driving on the back road. He would have gone DUI if the police found him on the nearby public road. His wife sat in the front seat nursing a VB.  They’re an intelligent couple, but they know they’re slipping down the slope fast.
“Do you think life is worth living?”  I asked him.
“That’s what I’m thinking. We losing family.”
“In the old days, them people would wake up with the birds talking to them,” I said.
“That’s what I had when I was a boy.”
A young man of about twenty sat in the back seat looking demoralized. Two older men were beside him.  I find it hard to look into the faces of some of the long-term young men and women drinkers, because they look at me as if I’ve failed in all that I’ve tried to do these past years.
And I know that they’re right.
There comes a point where you switch off and think about getting away while you can. Managing alcoholism is as much the issue as introducing an alcohol management plan (AMP), but without serious attention to supply restriction, including the interlocking roadhouse vortex, it’s going to leak big time.
PHOTO: A drinking camp in the bush near a “dry” community, not far from Alice Springs. The sign nailed to the tree says: “Let there be light in the darkness.”


  1. Thanks for sharing this Russell, most of us don’t see the the drinking camps up close.
    I have yet to read / hear a clear statement of why getting rid of the BDR was / is so important to the CLP.
    It targeted problem drinkers, not the great majority of us, and the anecdotal evidence about it seemed positive, from a variety of sources.
    Yet it seems to become an article of faith for even a bloke I’ve always thought of as reasonable, Terry Mills.
    Was it a promise that was made to win votes in bush seats? Or pressure from the alcohol lobby?
    In the lack of sensible reasoning, I am tempted to think the worst.

  2. Thank-you Russell for an insight into what is happening out bush. I now understand better where you are coming from.
    Ian, I agree with everything you said. It is hard to think of any excuse to ban the ban register other than it is a political ploy / stunt / kickback/ etc.
    As a moderate drinker the BDR did not impact on me. Isn’t that the preferred way, bring in restrictions that only affect your target group?
    Governments are becoming more and more irrelevant and more and more toxic to the general populace.

  3. Is it possible to have a clearer message that the exceptionalism fostered over the past half century is not working? Those in the group targeted as exceptional are dropping like flies. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
    There is nothing very exceptional about being human. And we are all Australians here. If we established those two layers first, and then added our many differences, how much of our societal malaise would disappear?
    Which isn’t to say that the grog barons should continue to enjoy unrestricted access to the general market. Theirs is also an attitude of exceptionalism. For some reason they, like most corporations, think the public at large should support the profitability of their shareholders even to the public’s own detriment. The container deposit scheme comes to mind, it being the most recent corporate disdain of the public good.
    And the Banned Drinkers Register was clearly a good idea, especially seen in hindsight, but cut short for political reasons. It would be good to think it might come back, but how many governments do you know who are willing to admit a mistake?

  4. Whether or not exceptionalism fostered over the past half century has worked or not I wouldn’t know. However the half century before with minimal access to alcohol and under the stewardship of various religions did add structure, purpose and a basic education to the people under the control of these religious organisations. Call it paternalistic, pastoral care or any other involvement, it did produce results and a generation of Australians capable of participating in the main stream of Australian society.

  5. Thank you for the responses to this story. There is a general agreement on re-instating the BDR, but can the Chief Minister return an instrument that reduces profit for those that put him in power?
    When I wrote to Terry Mills prior to the election and asked for a disclosure of alcohol industry campaign support, I was referred to the party Secretary.
    That there is a conflict of interest in alcohol supply and the NTG’s dismantling of the BDR to honour political patronage, is without doubt.
    Recently, I asked a restaurant waitress if she was aware of the concept of responsible serving of alcohol. She replied that there was an in-house discussion on the matter occasionally.
    I asked what she would do when a customer requested a third drink or more with their food and if she ever considered that they were moving close to the limit.
    She was a French-Canadian backpacker and switched on enough to reply that she would suggest a glass of water, but it was obvious that her response was because of my questioning. Her knowledge of alcohol percentage and standard drinks concept was negligible.
    My point is that responsible serving of alcohol is, as we all know, highly subjective and mindless most of the time, but a floor price would be a major educational advance towards understanding the loading of alcohol into the blood stream.
    Health warnings help, but don’t cut it in the medium to long-term and we already have a crisis.
    I know of some police officers who don’t understand the nature of a floor price.
    If the NTG doesn’t care, then what about those of us who have cared, but are witnessing the death of care in our alcoholic nation?
    I make my case for alcohol, violence and increasing anti-social behaviour, simply because the NTG doesn’t care, or more accurately, is irresponsible in its duty of care.
    This connection is not just anecdotally implied and observed, but has long been in the literature.
    I remain convinced that alcohol is the most dangerous drug in society, because it is so easily available and is now taking control of the supermarket mega-chain as Aldi enters, while Woolworths and Coles are buying up hotels.
    If the NTG was fair dinkum about the economy (instead of pro-business – there’s a difference) and the public health budget, it would do the math and tighten control.
    Dave Tollner’s $400m price tag for rehab centres is just the start of a disaster that will keep the NT in the limelight for all the wrong reasons.
    The smart money, and I don’t mean the mining industry, has noticed.


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