By ERWIN CHLANDA
The Wycliffe Well pub has voluntarily stopped selling take-away alcohol after a woman aged 19 was killed two weeks ago.
“The locals, the local blackfellers, were lined up here the next day after the killing as if nothing had happened,” says licence holder Arc Vanderzalm. “And I said, someone has been killed and I am not selling alcohol. And that’s the end of the story.”
[Police charged a 24 year old man with murder in relation to the death of a 23 year old female which occurred in Wauchope on Thursday, 24 April.]
Wycliffe Well (photo below), a roadhouse and caravan park, with a tongue-in-cheek reputation as a location where aliens and flying saucers have been spotted, is on the Stuart Highway, 370 km north of Alice Springs.
The woman was killed near another roadhouse, Wauchope, 17 km to the north. Wauchope, too, had stopped selling take-away alcohol, according to locals, but has resumed sales.
“I haven’t sold alcohol since. I don’t know how long I won’t be selling alcohol because I can’t afford not to sell it indefinitely. I’d go broke,” says Mr Vanderzalm.
“I’m certainly stopping now, for a couple of weeks more, or a bit longer yet, just to get my point across that they are a little bit out of control. Not a little bit out of control – just out of control.”
The 53-year-old former Queensland businessman bought Wycliffe four and a half years ago for $2m based on the turnover figures – and booze plays a major role in those. He says his customers are “my locals, from Ali Curung and that area.
“There was a killing. We were very upset about that killing. We see a lot of violence and we try to stop it as much as we can.
“We protect the women, we dob the blokes in. If the women won’t prosecute the blokes we will.”
Mr Vanderzalm does this by notifying the police, and prosecutions have followed, including one right now, he says.
“I’ve had meetings in my roadhouse, 40, 50, 60 people were there. We talked about violence, drinking, bad behaviour, the way they carry on. But it makes no difference.
“The next day it’s as if I never said a word. As if they didn’t hear it. A woman who’s been beaten, by the next day she will not press charges, doesn’t want to say anything about the bloke.
“But we will. We give statements to make sure that guy doesn’t get away with it. We have zero tolerance to any bit of violence we see here.”
Do police act on these complaints? “Yes, they do.”
He says the women think this is “terrific. They are happy about that.”
Mr Vanderzalm says outside the tourism season in winter, his main business comes from Aborigines, buying groceries, fast food, fuel and alcohol: “They are our biggest customers.”
The liquor licence allows the purchase of 12 light beer stubbies, or eight mid-strength, or six full strength, or six “mixers” per person per day. But non-drinkers also buy their entitlement and pass it on.
Procuring alcohol is clearly a full-time objective for most locals: “They get six cans here, they go to Wauchope to get six. They can go to Tennant Creek [150 km north of Wycliffe] where they can get as much as they like.”
The young woman who was killed was at Wycliffe the day she died: “We refused her alcohol, twice,” says Mr Vanderzalm. “She was affected, a bit wobbly on her feet. Anyway, she went to Wauchope (photo below right) and didn’t make it through the night.
“We get a lot of finger pointing because we are closest to the community. They will get charged up anywhere but my place, but they end up at my place, falling out of their cars. People see they are blind drunk because they are rolling around in the dust out the front. In actual fact it’s very little to do with me when they got nothing off us.
“They are noisy, they scream and they fight, doing wheelies in their cars, punching up each-other. It’s no fun. Last thing you want to do is getting people drunk. Since we are selling no beer they still turn up drunk.”
Mr Vanderzalm says he plans to keep the roadhouse for another eight to 10 years. How will he deal with the problems?
“Nobody’s ever been able to deal with these problems in a long, long time. They tried everything. No-one’s come up with the answer. I think the only answer is, stop take-away, just get rid of it, especially near communities.
“You shouldn’t be able to buy it on the doorstep of a community. It’s too easy for them, just too easy.
“But that’s not going to be my responsibility, because I can’t afford that.”
By ERWIN CHLANDA