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HomeIssue 41Youth crime needs pandemic scale measures, says historian

Youth crime needs pandemic scale measures, says historian


Local historian Alex Nelson says “problems of youth on the streets at night … correlate directly with the advent of equal civil rights for Aboriginal people during the 1960s and self-determination from the 1970s onwards.”

In a letter to the new Minister for Territory Families, Kate Worden, Mr Nelson (pictured) says: “There are fundamentally implicit negative side-effects to these progressive reforms that (despite many early warnings) effectively negate all efforts and expense to advance prospects for Indigenous people.

“While often there are claims that the current situation is out of hand and the worst it’s ever been, this is in fact a repetitive theme that stretches back several decades.

“Similarly, public figures frequently cast aspersions on other parties and recent previous administrations to lay blame for the failure to adequately address the problem of children running amok at night – again, it is another constant theme of several decades standing.”

Mr Nelson says various ideas and programs have been suggested or implemented “which invariably have been mentioned or tried previously to no avail, in some instances more than twice.

Advocate, January 23, 1987.

“Despite the deeply entrenched nature of this problem, there is little corporate memory of just how long these issues have been at the forefront of public awareness. It is a strikingly Orwellian facet of our society.”

Mr Nelson illustrates his point “of youth roaming the streets of Alice Springs at night covering a period well over half a century, spanning literally generations” with reports in the Centralian Advocate and Alice Springs News about the “spectrum of social disorders of crime, alcohol and drug abuse, and related issues which are all intricately interconnected … most notably the criticism of lack of parental responsibility but also poverty, overcrowding, family violence, disengagement with society, boredom, education issues, lack of or inadequate drop-in facilities, and much else.

“Aboriginal children and families are predominant in these circumstances for the entire duration of its history, irrespective of all the changes in Indigenous affairs throughout this time.

Alice Springs News, March 13, 2002.

“It is pertinent to note that these problems began to manifest in the NT from about the early 1960s onwards, trended progressively worse during the 1970s, and became firmly entrenched from at least the early 1980s onwards.

“The magnitude of the problems experienced today varies little and has been much the same for the duration of the period of NT self-government.”

Later the advent of social media “facilitated rampant vitriol and personal abuse”.

Mr Nelson says: “I am not advocating a repeal of civil rights but there is a need to recognise the duality of reforms which has led to unforeseen or unheeded negative consequences.

“The problem has developed on such a scale that it is beyond immediate family members or communities.

Advocate, January 11, 1994.

“It requires the whole of society to accept responsibility for bringing aberrant youth behaviour issues under control, and that is only possible if all our community leaders are determined to act in unison.

“This approach isn’t dissimilar to that taken towards controlling a pandemic – that is the kind of effort and resolution we need here.”

PHOTO collage, clockwise from top left: Alice Springs News March 3, 2011; News March 3, 1994; Centralian Advocate January 21, 1987; Advocate January 23, 1987; Advocate, November 16, 1990. Below: Alice Springs News, November 20, 2008.


  1. Alex Nelson, thanks for your contribution. It is good to see that somebody is still awake and thinking clearly.

  2. Fear is the best motivator against anarchy. Police require authority to shoot – it works in other countries. We need politicians to pass laws.

  3. Generations on the street is right, that gap is often only 15 years between young mum and baby. 15 year old in 2005 now has a 15 year old child following the same road.

  4. Aren’t we all lucky to have some people in our community like Alex who are prepared to put a little effort into researching the facts and history associated with Central Australia and then educating or refreshing Alice Springs News readers through his regular writings.

  5. Yes, Bob, because we cannot go into our future if we ignore the past. Why do we need historian some of us ask?
    Historians collect and evaluate information from many primary sources to answer questions about historical events, a process known as the historical method.
    They may analyse written records, physical artefacts, and other types of evidence during the course of their investigations.
    We need politicians to pass laws, said Psuedo Guru (17 October 2020 At 7:14am) but laws are useless if the past is ignored.

  6. I would hazard a guess that Peter Costello’s ridiculous baby bonus ties in with the explosion of the ratbag youth taking over our town at night.
    My sympathies are with the hard working taxpayers of this town who have to endure this rising curse.
    As Michael Liddle said on the ABC on Friday afternoon, a lot of these kids have no concept of the right thing to do and should be taken away from their parents and sent away.
    It was good to see police catch [them] using drones, tyre spikes and dogs, so maybe these areas need more resources. Well done cops.

  7. @ Psuedo Guru: Far be it for me to come up with solutions to the complex problem of youth crime in Alice Springs.
    Your suggestion to give police legal impunity to shoot does worry me.
    As for your comment that “it works in other countries,” I think caution is called for.
    In Wikipedia I found a list of countries ranked by the number of people shot and killed by on and off duty police: Brazil, Venezuela, Philippines, Syria, United States, Nigeria, El Salvador, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
    Do we really want to joint that list?

  8. @ Peter Cairns: I agree with your suggestion that Peter Costello’s baby bonus probably has something to do with the current Alice Springs “ratbag” youth scenario.
    May I also hazard a guess that John Howard and Mal Brough’s Northern Territory Emergency Response (the Intervention) and its damage to Aboriginal social fabrics and concomitant disempowerment might also have something to do with it?

  9. So much soft talk. Hit hard and fast and watch the night heroes cower.
    Alice Springs is out of control. Time for Europeans to march in protest.

  10. There is much talk about a curfew. What some haven’t yet figured out, is that there is already a curfew in place.
    It happens to be a self imposed one that many of us endure.
    So many have told me that they won’t venture into town at night for fear of personal safety or the risk of damage to their cars.
    Others won’t go for a walk when it’s dark or walk in the less populated places.
    Noticeable is the increased amount of fencing around houses or an increase in height of the existing fences.
    The Government promotes Bizsecure, a novel way to get people to pay for their own security (utilizing the taxes they already paid), a job which we have also already paid for by having a justice system and police.
    The pollies will lead you to believe that they want to encourage tourism, but they fail to see that if people don’t feel safe, they won’t come and if they are here, they won’t stay.
    It’s not about bottle shop opening times, its about feeling welcome and safe.
    Alex Nelson has supplied information clearly proving that this has been a long standing issue and yet we keep trying the same old things that didn’t work before and wonder why they don’t work now.
    Someone needs to explain to me how this forced behaviour is not a curfew, but more importantly, how is this fair and why is it continually tolerated?

  11. In 30 years of secondary teaching here some incidents stand out. A 13 year old boy threw a chair across the room. When I pointed out the dangers his response was immediate: “You cant do anything to me. I’m Aboriginal.”
    A 13 year old girl who badly misbehaved in class creating a dangerous situation for other students, accused me of picking on her because of the colour of her skin.
    I pointed out to her that my own children were dark skinned having Fijian heritage. Her response: “But they’re not Aboriginal.”
    The third one was when a boy exited from a department store here with stolen goods. He was stopped by a security guard – a good friend. The boy’s response was: “Touch me and I’ll call Aboriginal legal aid.”
    There in lies the problem. All of these were sent to the Royal commission – no response. Why am I not surprised?

  12. Psuedo Guru: Why are you here? Go home and fix up your skeletons in your cupboards.
    When Europeans can master the alcohol and domestic violence [problems], then you can talk but all I see and hear on the news is about the one-hit wonders.
    From an Arrernte woman.

  13. @ Arrerte: Arrenrte, where is home?
    When you say Europeans should master the alcohol and domestic violence, are you suggesting that they manage their own or Aboriginal people’s?

  14. Note, people of Alice. Fly the Australian flag by the hundreds or even thousands throughout the town and suburbs.
    Play the National Anthem in town each morning, say 9am, and again 6pm each day in the Mall.
    This will remind everyone that we are all Australians and if you don’t toe the line then it’s Alice or the bush.
    Come on leaders on both sides, show a bit of guts and leadership.

  15. @ Frank Baarda @ Peter Cairns: I would suggest that current youth issues can be traced back very significantly to the days of the Whitlam Government.
    Instantly drowning remote tribal communities in rivers of gold, mixed with a flood of white human rights activism from down south, introducing a deluge of material abundance and white activist emancipation philosophy mixed together, out of the clouds.
    It hit remote communities like a tsunami.
    No forewarning, no time for measures to be put in place to monitor the effects on traditional cultural mores.
    It set the trend which has continued for the next 47 years.
    No subsequent government has seen fit to address the phenomenon honestly, on the Right or Left, yet Aboriginal leaders have been calling out for help and honesty all that time.
    Simply overwhelming, too much to handle, with today’s inevitable dysfunctional social consequences. Correct me by all means if I’m wrong.


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