LETTER: The politics of caterpillars







Reader Andrea Hewett sent in this photo of hairy procession caterpillars. She says they remind her of our current political situation: They are going around in circles for hours, very slowly, no-one knows who the real leader is, and if you get too close to them they cause a major reaction.


  1. The symbolism of Andrea Hewett’s processionary caterpillar circle in relation to “our current political situation” (as she sees it) is very appropriate – but I extend this symbolism not just to the current state of affairs but also way back through our local history, too.
    Take a look at any issue over the last three years, for example, and I can assure you the same topics have been dealt with at least once in our recent history, and usually more often than that.
    Repetition of history is inevitable when it is systematically ignored; and there is every likelihood that some of the repetition is quite deliberate, in the manner described in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”.
    But to top off Andrea Hewett’s symbolic image, it’s worth remembering we in Central Australia live in Caterpillar Dreaming country – it’s just that today the dreaming has become a nightmare.

  2. @ Alex Nelson. Apr. 2.
    Everyone knows that alcohol is one of the biggest causes of the nightmare and has been so since the very early 1980s, when the Alice Town Camps became regular alcohol-related places of violence.
    Numerous Magistrates from Justice Muirhead through Justice Riley today, have been saying the same thing, including the current NT Chief Magistrate – that’s 35 years of ignoring the reality that even Steve Brown, a Town Councillor, no less, who resists turning the alcohol tap down, calls a “Disaster.”
    We hear all the time of good people leaving because of the social nightmare, but can we get the BDR returned? No.
    Can we get a floor price, despite Professor Gray’s recent and evidence-based advice that price plays a significant part in managing alcohol-related harm? It’s not even talked about by the NTG.
    Can we get a day free from take-away sales? The NTG resists sending independent assessors into the two pubs in town who continue to supply grog seven days per week.
    We wait for mandatory rehabilitation as part of the next round. Is it any wonder that some kids are anti-social? Where can they go? They can’t leave town. They’re caught up in the nightmare that goes on and on, largely because of a town that has failed to stop the grog. I’ve been involved in numerous “stop the grog”, “I’ve had enough”, “beat the grog” campaigns over this time. They were all funded by government, sorry, taxpayer money, like the proposed rehab centres. You’d think someone in government would learn by now that none of it works while the grog flows, but come to think of it, they can’t to anything either. You can’t stop the grog. It’s un-Australian.

  3. I agree with nearly everything you say, Russell, except the massive problem that Aboriginal people have with alcohol predates the early 1980s by a considerable margin.
    It was widely known in the bad old Commonwealth days that Aboriginal people were especially prone to the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption, and for this reason (as wards of the state and not being Australian citizens) they were not permitted to purchase, own (or be in possession of), and consume liquor.
    This changed in the NT from 1962 onwards with the proposal by Harry Giese, the director of Welfare under the NT Administration and an official (Commonwealth Government) member of the NT Legislative Council, to extend equal civil rights to all Aboriginal people in the NT.
    This was formally implemented in 1964, despite widespread warnings (both here and nationally) of the impending risk to Aboriginal people to legally access alcohol (one of those who highlighted this danger was the then non-official member of the NT Legislative Council from Alice Springs, Bernie Kilgariff).
    No heed was taken of these warnings, and consequently we all continue to pay a dreadful price for the carnage that has been inflicted on Aboriginal people from that time onwards.
    In many parts of the NT it is the Aboriginal people themselves who have attempted to rewind the clock to those earlier times by declaring their communities and town camps as dry, in attempts to limit the damage by unrestrained alcohol consumption. But the damage was well underway by the early 1980s.
    However, my first comment wasn’t exclusively related to the problem of excessive alcohol consumption, it is a general observation in relation to all matters of governance and administration in the Northern Territory, a region I liken to being a kind of “outback Siberia” – out of place and out of mind for the overwhelming majority of Australians – and consequently a perfect environment for a system where, basically, anything is legal as long as you don’t get caught!

  4. Thanks, Alex. I always enjoy the historical perspective that you bring to your commentary. In his 1998 book Desert Song, the late R. M. Williams, as an early 1930s camel guide for the Warburton Mission founder, Bill Wade, noted that he dreaded tribal desert people’s exposure to alcohol.
    They had, at that time, not ventured down the path of alcohol.
    My comment on the early 1980s was related to work that I was doing in the Town Camps, specifically Little Sisters, where first aid applications increased to the point where violence became a regular occurrence, although critical mass hadn’t, to the point where we find ourselves today.


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