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Tuesday, 29 September 1970
Page: 1823


Mr CALDER (Northern Territory) - I rise to continue my speech on the estimates for the Department of Health from last Thursday evening. I noticed in the report of the Department of Health for 1969-70 under the heading of 'Mental Health' that there has been a steady overall increase in the number of mental health patients in the Northern Territory, both European and Aboriginal. On Thursday last I referred to the Government's consideration in this matter by having budgeted for a psychiatric clinic in Darwin. I would urge the Government to make more facilities available for all members of the community in the north. We who live in the Territory know that the building up of commercial enterprises, the influence of sophistication and the effect of alcohol on the Aboriginals is placing more strain on families than previously. While commending the Government for budgeting for a psychiatric clinic in Darwin and for building new hospitals at Nhulunbuy and Alice Springs, I urge it to make more facilities available for mental treatment.

A Justice of the Peace who has been sitting on the bench for many years finds that his hands are tied and he can do nothing but commit a man to gaol for something that is obviously a psychiatric matter, whether it is alcoholism or the effect of the pressures of modern day life on the Aboriginals or, in very many cases, on the itinerants who come to the north. They have become somewhat unbalanced. There is nothing one can do except commit them to gaol or have them certified so that they can be sent south. 'South' means going 900 miles to Adelaide. At least, now, from Alice Springs it will mean going 800 miles north or, from places in between, varying distances less than that. I hope that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) will hear my call for increased psychiatric services in the Territory which are becoming more necessary.

I refer to the report on urban public health. The main centres in the Northern Territory are growing apace. The populations of Darwin and Alice Springs increase at the rate off 11 per cent per annum. Darwin has sewerage. The Public Works Committee that went up there voted some millions of dollars for this necessity. Alice Springs is in the same position. Centres such as Katherine and Tennant Creek are growing fast. A lot of the soil in those areas is unsuitable for operating the normal septic tanks. It is sandy loam country and the soil will not absorb the moisture. This causes a lot of trouble in most of the Territory, from Eyres Rock to Katherine. They have trouble with sewerage. There has been a great cry recently for sewerage for Katherine. The problem is becoming a health hazard. I was there last weekend. Even in the vicinity of some of the major motels one gets an aroma of sewage. This is something that could be dangerous. They have their fresh water supply running past their back door in the Katherine River. With these soil conditions I would recommend that the Government should look at the problem of sewerage in these communities from a health point of view.

Another matter contained in the report is rural public health. In the Territory it had formerly been considered that the main centres are Darwin, Alice Springs, Katherine and Tennant Creek. But all over the Territory communities have grown up such as Yuendumu, Papunya, Warrabri, Bamyili, Groote Eylandt, Yirrkala, and Oenpelli. These are communities of Australians. They are coloured people, but they are Australians. Formerly the patients have been sent from the local hospitals at what used to be settlements but which are now communities, into the main centres at Alice Springs, Katherine, Tennant Creek or Darwin. This has caused overcrowding. The main overcrowding in the Alice Springs hospital has been caused by Aboriginal children being sent from the PapunyaYuendumu area to Alice Springs. The hospitals in these communities are far better now than the Alice Springs hospital was when I went to Alice Springs originally. I urge the Minister for the Interior (Mr Nixon) to assist the Minister for Health to see whether it could be arranged that the community hospitals are run from the base hospitals at Darwin, Alice Springs,

Katherine or Tennant Creek. I think that that could overcome the crowding in those hospitals.

The Aboriginals from these areas do not wish to go 100 or 200 miles into town to hospitals. They have to take their families with them. The families sit outside waiting for the children to get better. This is generally against their way of life. I urge the Government and the Minister for Health to consider using the outlying hospitals. There is a good one at Groote Eylandt. It is one of the best hospitals of its type that 1 have seen. When I last saw it there were 2 patients in it. These hospitals couuld help the crowded situation caused by transferring patients to the main centres. 1 urge the Government to decentralise the hospital situation in the Northern Territory.







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