I live on a dry community on Aboriginal land. Well, dry for the Aboriginal people but not for those Europeans who can apply to have and consume alcohol at their home. This is a normal situation in most NT dry communities but it doesn’t often come to attention. I don’t have a permit, I can wait till I get to town every six weeks or so to indulge.

This is the kind of fudge for Human Resources managers that provides some comfort to those Europeans working in remote communities and who need a drink from time to time – “Maaate, it’s a dry community … but, not for you.”

If you’re white you’re alright.

As the ABC’s Anne Barker reported in 2005, this can be an emotional issue:

There have been angry scenes at an Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory that is fighting for a total ban on all alcohol.

Traditional owners at Ngukurr in Arnhem Land have become increasingly hostile towards white workers including police, who are the only people allowed to drink.

A majority of residents recently voted to end the 20-year-old permit system and wants the Liquor Commission to declare the community completely dry…

Police, teachers and health workers are allowed to drink at home, while even Ngukurr’s traditional owners face arrest and charges if they are caught with a single can of beer…

Many residents, including council president David Daniels, resent what they say is an unfair and discriminatory system.

“How come there’s one law for the white people and one law for the Aborigines – white people have the permit, Aborigines haven’t got the permit,” he said.

But it’s different for white people – it’s their culture. As one white resident told Anne Barker in 2005:

Drinking is part of European culture, ceremony and celebration — banning permits means these cultural practices become criminalised.

Total prohibition means people who enjoy social drinking [tend] to break the community law by drinking secretively.

And according to Alan Clough of the NT Liquor Commission, white people with permits had different citizenship rights to Aboriginal people: “there are a number of people down there now that have permits. We need to consider their status in light of the community’s wishes and in light of their rights as citizens to have rights to access liquor.”

It’s wintertime in the Territory and in the desert the nights are cool and the days are sunny and pleasant. But by late August daily temperatures will soar into the high-30’s and low 40’s.

I for one wouldn’t begrudge a hot and thirsty policeman a cold beer at the end of a long day – but, if Howard is serious about his plan to ban “the sale, possession, transportation and consumption of alcohol” in the NT, surely it would only be fair, and non-discriminatory, to extend the ban to all residents of the communities targeted in his “war on child abuse” – not just the black ones.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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