Friday, May 14, 2010
Getting rid of the grog
Firstly - readers, it rained!
I woke gently at 430 this morning (everyone wakes up early here, probably because we're all in bed by half-past eight) to the sound of the rain falling on the tin roof. This is the stuff of legend, rain falling on a country roof - could things be any more romantic?
I'm here in Halls Creek, about 300 km south of Kununurra, for a day of meetings today. There are a group of Aboriginal women I want to speak with, because they galvanised action last year and brought about a grog ban in this community.
It was a pretty divisive thing, from what I understand. The issue is more complex than this, but to grossly sum it up, it went like this:
Alcohol was destroying Halls Creek, in the way it is destroying many Aboriginal communities across the country. Men and women were out late, getting smashed, smashing each other, kids were out until all hours, money was spent on grog and not on food (or schooling, or anything else) and kids were experiencing severe neglect - running wild, undernourished, bashed, abused.
A group of senior Aboriginal women got together and said Enough Is Enough. This grog is killing us.
But bringing in an alcohol ban wasn't as easy as you might think. Some local business owners objected, because they sell alcohol and were worried about their business viability and being able to support their own families. Some white members of the community objected because they felt a grog ban infringed on Aboriginal human rights. Some Aboriginal people objected for the same reasons - that a grog ban is a further step into a nanny state and that they had the right to make their own decisions even if they weren't positive ones.
In the end a compromise was reached. Alcohol is still available in Halls Creek, but it has some limitations. You can only drink full-strength grog in the bars and hotels. You can't take it away to drink at home or in the park - you can only take away light beer.
The Government changed the legislation, and apparently, the problems disappeared almost overnight. Because it is a lot more difficult to get completely pissed (and carry on drinking into the wee hours of the morning), things have changed.
They're looking at what the Sobering Up Shelter could be used for now, because it no longer needs to house the same amount of drunks overnight. Domestic violence and assault rates are down. And with grog out of the way, that clears the path to address some of the other issues of disadvantage that Aboriginal people face out here.
It's not a complete answer, of course, because people - whether Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal - can still drink themselves into oblivion within the bars and hotel if they want to. They can also get in the car and drive three hours to Kununurra and load up with booze there. Truckies can still bring it into Halls Creek and sell it for exorbitant prices. So there are some complexities, for sure.
But it's a start, and the way the Aboriginal women came together to make lasting change in their community, is an inspiring example of the leadership principles that I'm looking at as part of my secondment. I'm looking forward to hearing how they did it.