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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4535


Dr Everingham asked the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:

(1)   Has his attention been drawn to a report by Professor Berndt, a Western Australian anthropologist, of the social behaviour of Aboriginal men and women since a liquor store opened on a mining lease at East Alligator River crossing late in 1969 despite objections by the adjoining mission and the Aborigines, and of his claim that the mission would soon be forced to close unless immediate action was taken.

(2)   Ii so, what action has been taken in the matter.

(3)   Will he confer with native spokesmen and the Minister for External Territories and take steps to ensure that liquor is not introduced to populations where it is clearly more damaging than other drugs at present restricted or banned in Australia.

(4)   Will the Government ensure that all estimated revenue proceeds of liquor sales to native peoples, or at least equivalent amounts, are devoted to (a) education of native peoples in the dangers and values of alcohol as a food, drug and poison and (b) medical and social help and rehabilitation for the victims of alcoholism and their dependants.


Mr Hunt - The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   I have read Professor Berndt's report. The text of a statement issued recently on the matter by the Bishop of the Northern Territory, the Right Reverend K. Mason and the Church Missionary, Society Field Superintendent, Mr P. Leske, is given at the end of the answer as it puts the Church and Mission views on the effects of drinking on the Oenpelli community.

(2)   There has been continuing and close consultation between the Mission authorities and the Administration about the incidence of drinking by Aborigines from Oenpelli at the store concerned. I also spoke to the Oenpelli community about this matter earlier this year when 1 visited there. There has been increased supervision by police of the area. The mission authorities have also had talks with the licensee and these are referred to in the statement quoted below.

(3)   The report of the Commission appointed by the Administrator of Papua, and New Guinea to inquire into drinking of intoxicating liquors in that Territory will be studied when available to see if the recommendations of that Commission have any application to particular communities in the Northern Territory.

The Advisory Council on Northern Territory Aboriginal Affairs which includes 12 Aborigines representing communities throughout the Territory will be given every opportunity, to consider the effects of the introduction of liquor in Aboriginal communities and to advise on action which might be taken in this regard.

(4)   Part of the continuing work of Welfare officers is Instruction on the need for moderation in the consumption of alcohol with individual counselling given in problem cases.

The Board of the Methodist Mission has been informed that the Government is prepared to subsidise the salary of a social worker whose duties would include education programmes on drinking and family counselling in particular cases. Similar assistance tor other mission authorities would be considered if requested.

Funds for health and social services for Aborigines in the Territory are provided under appropriations in the Budget of the responsible Departments.

Text of statement by the Bishop of the Northern Territory, the Right Reverend K. Mason, and Mr P. Leske

Recent controversy has focused on the Border Store, situated on the western side of the East Alligator River, which is the Arnhem Land border. Mr Terry Robinson began to operate the store towards the end of 1966, to cater for the needs of tourists who come in considerable numbers to the area. As well, the store has attracted numbers of Oenpelli Aboriginals.

In 1969 Mr Robinson applied for a liquor licence. This application was opposed by the Oenpelli Aboriginals and Mission authorities - nonetheless the licence was granted in August, 1969.

Mr Robinsonundertook lo sell beer only and not "hard" spirits, but over the last 2 years the availability of liquor so close to Oenpelli has led to considerable breakdown in the life of the Aboriginals.

Drunkenness and fighting resulted in frequent damage to life and properly. Family, life for many was disrupted and social and moral problems began lo increase.

A large proportion of the wages of many workers went on beer at the Border Store, and with more vehicles operating in the area. Aboriginals were also able to go further afield for liquor.

Professor Ronald Berndt, during a recent visit to Oenpelli, was dismayed at the position and spoke of alcohol leading to genocide. His remarks led to a good deal of publicity. Conferences among Mission staff and Aboriginals have been held, and Mr Robinson attended discussions on 13th October.

All present were deeply concerned about the problems and there was a full sharing of difficulties with the desire to find a way forward.

The Aboriginal people have now expressed the following wishes:

1.   It is essential for a policeman to be resident in the area.

2.   No alcohol should be made available to the Oenpelli side of the East Alligator River - i.e. a "wet" canteen is not wanted.

3.   The fact that the Border Store sells only beer is appreciated. This licence should not be withdrawn, as this would aggravate matters by leading to a search for liquor from further away.

4.   Much better facilities should be provided at the Border Store for leisurely drinking, with no beer to be taken away from the store.

Mr Robinsonfully recognises the gravity of the position and wants to do all in his power to improve and control matters.

The Oenpelli Aboriginals have been stirred by recent happenings and are determined to exercise whatever controls are possible among their own people.

The outcome of recent discussions has been welcomed by Church and Mission authorities in the Diocese, and the desire of all involved to cooperate in improving the situation is cause for thankfulness.

We appreciate the concern of Church people about these problems, and hope that the above will lead to continuing informed prayer.'







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