This week's Food for Thought is by RUSSELL GUY, commentator, writer and music promoter in Central Australia's outback for 31 years. He is a frequent contributor to the comment sections of the Alice Springs News Online. He is also a keen aviator where "eight hours from bottle to throttle" is an unbending rule for pilots in command of an aircraft.
In 2006 – 2007, Australians aged 15 and over consumed on average almost 10 litres of pure alcohol per head. In comparison, average consumption in the NT by the non-indigenous population was over 14 litres, and for indigenous it was more than 16 litres, but Alice Springs is way out in front at around 20 litres per head.
The NT Government says 70% of all alcohol sold in the NT is sold as take-away liquor and that hospitalisation rates due to alcohol are the highest in Australia. The same research relates that alcohol-related deaths occur in the NT at about 3.5 times the rate they do nationally. 55% of road deaths are caused by high-risk drinking in the NT and that in 2009, there were 54,000 incidents of people taken into protective custody due to alcohol misuse. Adults who consumed alcohol, 30% reported drinking alcohol at a risky or high risk level and added that if the NT were a country, then it would be up amongst those countries in the world with the highest rates of per capita consumption. Many studies have identified the correlation between high levels of alcohol consumption and shortened life expectancy.
Is it any wonder booze is shaping up as one of the main issues in the run-up to the local government elections next month?
Early last year an article by two Australian academics began circulating on the internet, proposing that the prison sentences passed on the five men convicted of the manslaughter of Kwementyaye Ryder – seen to be too light – were a "consolation prize" for their "whiteness". They painted a portrait of a "frontier town" where "if Aboriginal people are no longer formally prohibited from remaining within town limits after dark, their places remain on the fringes of Alice Springs: among scattered ceremonial grounds or as presences to be monitored and moved on at the edges of malls and souvenir shops, in dilapidated and dangerous town camps, and in the shadowy, uncertain shelter of the dry river bed".
The five, in the events of that night, were "re-animating their own ancestral rituals of white violence", they argued. The tragedy of Mr Ryder's death was "one more instance of racist violence and assault inscribed with the trauma-memory of exterminatory massacres".
The authors, Suvendrini Perera (Curtin University, Perth) and Joseph Pugliese (Macquarie University, Sydney) were commended for their dissection of "the white power play of the NT justice system" by Ray Jackson, President of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, to whom their article was dedicated. Mr Jackson asserted that "had the perpetrators been Asian, Muslim, African or indeed other Aborigines, then it would be a different story".
All of this struck me as a particularly unhelpful and often quite wrong-headed analysis of the events, their social context and the way in which they were dealt with in the court and by the community at large. It also flew in the face of the public statements of the Ryder family: their call for calm as the justice process began in August 2009, their acceptance of the verdict and sentencing when it drew to an end in April 2010, and the comment from family spokesperson Karen Liddle that the community could learn from these events.
In this spirit I worked with Mark Finnane, my brother and an academic himself with the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security at Griffith University, Brisbane, to write an alternative analysis of these events. KIERAN FINNANE and MARK FINNANE comment.
Pictured: The memorial to Kwementyaye Ryder at the place where he died, Schwarz Crescent, Alice Springs.