Australian alcohol ban effects change

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Australia’s Aboriginal communities enjoy a safer, more positive atmosphere.

Two years ago the Aboriginal communities in Western Australia’s northwest area adopted a plan to restrict the use of alcohol. While some criticized the plan for being too “paternalistic,” Fitzroy Valley’s indigenous population sanctioned the move, believing communities would see positive results.

Based on the program’s outcomes, the Drug and Alcohol Office and University of Notre Dame Australia released a report last month in favor of it. Measurable results revealed not only less street drinking and anti-social behavior, but also a sharp decline in the severity of injuries from public and domestic violence.

According to Professor Alan Cass, indigenous health researcher, the six-month review showed “the drinking restriction—led by the community—produced a noticeable improvement in health and social issues including a 50 percent reduction in hospital admissions, a 27 percent reduction in alcohol-induced violence, and a 14 percent increase in school attendance.”

Cass added that before the ban “the community experienced 13 suicides in 13 months. Reports of family violence were commonplace and alcohol consumption was rising at an alarming rate.”

Major John Farquharson, Salvation Army cross-cultural and indigenous ministries consultant, traveled to Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek to investigate these claims.

“Primarily, it was to observe and make contact with various indigenous persons in that area in northwestern Australia,” he said, “to see whether there were things happening in Falls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing that may be relevant to other Aboriginal communities.”

Impressed with the friendly and relaxed attitudes of the citizens, Farquharson commented: “Instead of turning away, Aboriginal people stopped to talk to us. They wanted to engage. It was like they had self-respect and there was an unforeseen openness.

“They told us, for instance, how attendance at schools increased quite dramatically, how the emergency department at the local hospital was no longer dealing with major emergencies, and how there was much less assault.”

Doreen Green, spokeswoman for a group of senior Aboriginal women from Halls Creek told ABC Radio: “People are now happy and you don’t hear of the fights, the violence, and all of that. You now see children play in the local park kicking a football around. Before [the ban] the park was taken over by drunken people.”

The program, although still viewed as paternalistic on some level, provides “breathing space to allow better community programs and better engagement for some of the younger people,” said eminent leader Peter Yu. It also permits implementation of early intervention programs, such as immunization of children.

Majors Dean and Kay Hill—who run a Salvo mobile ministry that travels through Fitzroy Crossing and Halls Creek—believe it is now time for a more permanent presence in the north.

“One of the things I would love to see,” he says, “is for The Salvation Army to go and set up in some of the communities. There’s much that can be done.”

Taken from, August 22, 2009 issue

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