Earlier this year, I spent three weeks working in the remote NT community of Oenepelli (Kunbarrlanjya in Kunkwinkju), a place I first visited in November 2007 as part of the Federal Government’s intervention. 2009 was my third stint — the last two of which I have worked as a locum in the health clinic there.
I can’t say how the Intervention is working elsewhere, but my observations at Oenepelli suggest that it is far from the success story being promoted by Minister Macklin.
This January, I saw many more patients suffering injuries and other ill effects from alcohol abuse than I’d seen while there as a locum the previous January. It seems the restrictions on grog sales have simply driven use under ground and encouraged more harmful patterns of drinking. Prohibition never works. Some patients now tell me they are drinking bottles of vodka — presumably smuggled in — rather than the full-strength beer they can no longer buy at the local club.
The drinking restrictions may be having other unintended consequences. This year was the first year I had to go to police cells to examine young people who had crossed paths with the law after petrol sniffing. There’s also been a big spate of robberies at white homes lately that weren’t happening before when black and white people had access to alcohol. The robberies are allegedly due to people looking for alcohol.
Get Crikey FREE to your inbox every weekday morning with the Crikey Worm.
On my first visit in 2007, doing health checks on the kids, 90 per cent of those that I saw needed dental and ENT referrals. Last I saw, they were still waiting for dental and ear treatment. As yet I can’t see any benefits from all the resources invested in the health checks — kids still have the same diseases and low access to help.
The intervention has made no health difference in this observer’s opinion; there are changed patterns of alcohol and drug use that may be worse than before. A police officer I talked to said that “things are worse” since the intervention.
One thing I’ve learned from the expensive fiasco that the intervention has become, is, that it is pointless to have people from outside communities making well-meaning decisions.
If a community seems to be in trouble, we should and can offer help. We shouldn’t go in, jack-booting and saying what we will do what they need.
There are strong and respected people in this community who have got a lot of helpful things to say. We just need to do a better job of listening to them!
Western Arnhem Land is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. So far the intervention hasn’t extended its tentacles to removing land permits. Thus, to date, it remains an unspoiled part of this troubled world, with its own culture, language and magnificent rock art.
Ah well, back to my comfort zone work of dealing with the worried well in Melbourne, (instead of the unworried, unwell in underfunded NT).