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.


Christina said...

What inspiring women. Hope the meeting is productive, it sounds very interesting and they sound like the right people to talk to.

My Uni lecturer used to work with aboriginal communities to get their art sold for fair prices. Gallery dealers without scruples would swap paintings for grog. Like the truckies selling the booze. It really makes you wonder doesn't it.

Sandra @ Pepperberry & Co. said...

Wow. What an amazing and inspiring story. Having spent so many years as a social worker, I too have seen the incredible effect that this legal drug can have on individuals, families, and communities, and often the great barrier was convincing people that their lives are worth so much more. I'm so inspired by the fact that this project and solution came from within this Indigenous community- I hope the tale spreads to other communities (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous) and is a driving force for positive change. Yay you for being involved in something so beautiful!

Polka Dot Rabbit said...

Thanks so much for your post, I've enjoyed reading your thoughts, so many people are afraid of doing the wrong thing (especially if they are anglo) when it comes to indigenous welfare issues that they do nothing at all.

Tina said...

What a nice story. I work with local tribes here near Oregon and am a member of the Cherokee tribe. Grass roots efforts make all the difference I think. I hope the semi-dry policies continue to work and that everyone benefits from the better lifestyle changes. Drugs and alcohol have a huge impact on the lives our tribal children here as well.

Posie Patchwork said...

So many communities thrive when they are dry (& petrol pumps are locked), i don't drink at all, so i'd be just fine!! Love Posie

Isabella Golightly said...

So inspiring to hear what working together as a community can achieve - and doesn't it make you wonder about the mindset of other people? "I can't stop selling grog because it'll affect my bottom line". Hellooooo, bigger picture!!

Isabella Golightly said...

So inspiring to hear what working together as a community can achieve - and doesn't it make you wonder about the mindset of other people? "I can't stop selling grog because it'll affect my bottom line". Hellooooo, bigger picture!!