NOW IT'S THE VOTERS' CALL! Report by ERWIN CHLANDA.
A record number of six independents from The Centre will contest Saturday's election, disgruntled, they say, by the government's attitudes north of the Berrimah – now Palmerston – Line, or even by their own former political peers. Minister for Central Australia Richard Lim, the town's only sitting CLP member, now faces two opposition forces: an invigorated Labor Party with a traditional constituency of more than one third of the vote, and a loose independent block with Braitling's Loraine Braham as the leading light. She jumped ship in the wake of the "night of the long knives" last year when the ruling party's Darwin dominated central council disendorsed her and she was sacked as Dr Lim's predecessor. Most observers say any candidate not getting an absolute majority – 50 per cent plus one – will face an unpredictable distribution of preferences. It is estimated that 40 per cent of the electors will vote in electorates new to them, either because they're recent arrivals, they have moved within the town, or the redistribution after the 1997 poll has put them into a new seat. Perceived government neglect of The Centre, the failure to resolve the drawn-out dispute over alcohol abuse measures, law and order, and race relations were at the top of the list of issues when the News spoke with Mrs Braham, Dr Lim and Labor's leading light, Opposition Whip Peter Toyne, Member for Stuart. And the messy sewerage plant, seen widely as a major health risk and a waster of water in this dry region, is in stark contrast to moves for a centre promoting "desert knowledge". For Dr Toyne the Darwin railway is an example of government focus on the Top End. He says it's "a mega project of $1.2b that the CLP has brought on. "It clearly has negative effects on employment and economic activity in Central Australia by losses of job in the trucking industry and businesses associated with it. "There is no plan to compensate the region for that loss of activity. "Labor's support of the railway as a totality doesn't mean we neglected to debate the regional impacts." Dr Toyne says Labor has the answer: "The Great Outback Highway would rekindle the trucking industry's workload because a road going east west would replace the north south business lost to the railway. "We would also get a lot more tourism. "We want to fix up the infamous Tanami Road once and for all. $6.5m will rebuild the surface to a good unsealed condition. "And we want to sit down with the miners to work out a longer term plan to potentially seal sections, possibly all the way out to the mining province. "We'll spend $40m over two terms on beef roads. "Our road system has degraded continually since it was handed over to the NT Government," says Dr Toyne. Mrs Braham says: "The government's emphasis certainly has been on Darwin, particularly in this term. "They call the Berrimah Line the Palmerston Line now because Palmerston is getting huge grants. "They put millions into the construction of the new port, and they put a lot of money into sporting grants we didn't get down here. "For example, the Palmerston golf club got $180,000 whereas the golf club down here hasn't received that sort of funding. "The RSL in Palmerston, I think, got a $80,000 grant. "The Palmerston council got $400,000 to develop a city square. "They moved the Waratah Oval and gave them money to relocate." Dr Lim denies that The Centre suffers from government neglect – and says the railway is just one example of support. He says the Alice convention centre, up and running by March next year and well ahead of its Darwin counterpart, represents a "commitment by government of $10m" which together with the $30m upgrade of the Alice hospital and the relocation of the Centralian College's tourism school to its main campus are a " significant injection of funds into the town". Dr Lim says "you cannot talk about" a comparison between Darwin and Alice Springs of capital expenditure per head of population: "It doesn't make sense. "Expenditure should always be on a needs basis." Dr Lim says the railway will inject $68m into the Alice Springs economy in the first year. "In 2002-03 $100m will be spent on transport, earthworks, culverts, bridges and other services, and $215m over the whole three year project." Mrs Braham says The Alice "will be the place where all materials are offloaded and transported on during construction. RECRUITMENT "Alice will be a recruitment place and an R&R location which has great potential. "Already some of the companies in town have done very well, like Territory Transportables and Red Centre Produce. "I'm a country girl. We've always had trains going through our town. "It was great to be able to jump on a train and go somewhere." She is less impressed with the government's handling of Aboriginal issues: "Resolution of native title over Alice Springs land is vital. "If we want to expand as a town we need land. "We just don't have that at the moment. "There needs to be a regional agreement between the government and the traditional owners. "I think Chief Minister Denis Burke should talk to the traditional owners rather than continually going through the Central Land Council. "If the TOs can have more of a say in what they would agree to then we would reach a speedier conclusion. "The TOs would then instruct the land council, and that's the way it should be." Dr Toyne sees the planned desert centre as a key not only to race relations, but also to a boost in tourism. "The Desert People's Knowledge Centre is where most of the endowment of our $30m would initially go," he says. "Additional to our indigenous education institutions we believe we can involve the commercial Red Centre Resort in an extension of indigenous tourism. "Just imagine a centre that can carry out desert research, provide media production across the board, including publishing and electronic media, performing and visual arts and a museum for tourists. "It can provide a centre for open learning leading out to all the communities. "It can underwrite major economic developments under regional agreements, by research, training and education support. "Funding [under the Labor plan] is immediate through the $10m that comes from the NT budget. "We have understandings with the Federal Government for an additional $25m once the Labor Government is elected in Canberra – and we're pretty certain they will be." Mrs Braham is critical of Chief Minister Denis Burke for his failure to outline – beyond a $750,000 commitment over three years – the future of the desert centre under a CLP government. She says: "Most promises they've made have no time line. "They say they may be done within the new term of office but that doesn't mean they're going to be done immediately. "Don't hold your breath. "The sewerage ponds should have been moved, as it was suggested years ago, out to Brewer Estate [opposite the Pine Gap turn- off on the south Stuart Highway]. "The land is there," says Mrs Braham. "They've neglected that sewerage problem for so long it's become an embarrassment. "With all the land at Owen Springs [the cattle station south of town recently bought by the NT Government] plans for horticultural use of the treated effluent are a very sensible suggestion. "As far as the Desert Knowledge Centre goes, a lot of work has already been done. "It doesn't take three years to plan this. Alice in Ten has been working on it most successfully for ages. "They have a consortium already established. "The government hasn't looked at this seriously. It's just a token promise. "They really need to put in four or five million dollars for a big complex."However, Dr Lim says: "Until you have a plan there's no point in talking about when you are going to do it." He says the $250,000 a year for the next three years will be to "engage an internationally renowned academic who is also commercially oriented to help draft the project. The Institute for Aboriginal Development, the Central for Appropriate Technology and Batchelor College are talking about a Desert People's Centre. Have all three agreed to co-locate with the Desert Knowledge Centre, on the Stuart Highway opposite Yirara College? Dr Lim: "What I understand is that they intend to retain their town campuses and will also have a joint campus at the Desert Knowledge Centre. "That's a good way to do it. It's their choice. "It's about co-operative arrangements between educational institutions. "We will now bring in the NT University and Centralian College, and people like CSIRO, Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries, the Arid Zone Research Institute." Is there a time line for the $8.5m conversion of the outdated sewerage plant to a water recycling facility, providing irrigation for a horticultural project? Says Dr Lim: "The Alice Springs Urban Water Management Reference Group has been looking at this for the past 12 months. "That group has to progress that. They will report to the PAWA management board and then it will come to Cabinet. "It is something that has to be worked through the process." Dr Toyne says Labor "would not allow extractive mining in the Western MacDonnells National Park. "This does make economic sense because this is a park that has huge tourism value. "Why would you want to bugger it up by defacing it with mining. "The West Macs need further development. "We need an additional development at Glen Helen to have more capacity. "It's a rustic facility at the moment and I think we also need more up-market facilities, as well as school and backpacker activities out there, walking, horse riding and trekking. "That's totally underdeveloped at the moment. "We haven't completed the Larapinta trail yet and there are many things that you can do to enhance the experience of day trippers and picnickers. Mrs Braham says: "I think it would be sad if they mined in the West Macs. "Most people would say now we've got to be very careful with mining in our national parks. "There would need to be rehabilitation done and any damage to the environment repaired and not left as a scar on the landscape. "A lot of people would say the West Macs should be left for tourism. There should be no mining in the West Macs." ENJOY PARKSAbout the native title claim over the park she says: "Parks should be shared and enjoyed by anyone. I would hate to see that any sort of restrictions be placed upon them. "Native title claimants should go ahead with their claim so long as they realise that they can't exclude people from the park." [The Central Land Council has given assurances that access rights will not be violated.] "Development of the West Macs as a prime tourist attraction still has a long way to go," says Mrs Braham. Roads need to be improved beyond Glen Helen. "There should be better marketing of the park." Although Dr Lim acknowledges the role of the park in the tourism industry, he's not against mining: "It would be stupid of the NT Government to damage our tourism industry. "Land clearing in the NT is well less than one per cent. We've been very judicious in how we look after our land. "It is a coincidence of nature that land we have set aside as parks and reserves are also highly mineralised." Dr Lim would not reveal what minerals are in the West Macs national park as that information would be "commercially in confidence". He says: "At the moment we are providing exploratory licences. "That means someone can go in there with a drill and get core samples. "I was the chairman of the Environment Committee of the NT for seven years. "In that time I was responsible for the management of our uranium province in the Top End, ensuring that environmental measures were observed," says Dr Lim. "Many of the mines we visited after rehabilitation are almost back to normal bush now. "You could hardly tell where the mines were. "The NT Government has done all it can to ensure the West Macs are a pristine and internationally renowned park. "We bought Owen Springs to ensure that the Larapinta Trail can be built and the West Macs preserved." Dr Toyne says he would "do a Bob Hawke" to get alcohol issues resolved: "We are going to be sitting in this room until we've determined what action is going to be taken and no-one is leaving. "It will be treated like an industrial dispute. "We'll be looking for targeted restrictions within the liquor licensing arrangements, and a raft of other initiatives that have been thoroughly outlined in the Hauritz Report and the recent meeting. "All the ideas are out there and so are the means of bringing them to fruition. "It has to be done ASAP. "We're losing people, we're losing quality of life. "There is no reason for delay given the depth of the discussion and research that's occurred," says Dr Toyne. But Mrs Braham is against further supply restrictions, looking for other measures: "I think the services that are available now should be supported better. "The back to country program [providing transport for Aborigines wishing to return to their communities] has been under threat. "They have been given funding but it should not always be a case for people having to justify what they are doing. ALCOHOL"The program is fairly well stabilised, it's working well, and people see it as one of their solutions." She says the replacement of Living With Alcohol with NT Safe is not a success. "NT Safe is all about small, one-off grants, whereas Living With Alcohol had a bit of vision, striving for an outcome and enjoying a certainty of funding. "I've always been a believer that alcohol supply restrictions won't make any difference. "Cutting back take-away hours wouldn't make much difference. People would just be getting drunk a bit later."Dr Lim says the liquor meeting chaired by him on July 26 had resulted in "very positive" comments, and he's looking forward to a "full debrief" from DASA manager Nick Gill. When are new measures going to be introduced? "That's entirely up to the representative group elected at the meeting. I have not had a briefing. "It's up to the Licensing Commission."Dr Toyne says "we'd make great inroads" on crime prevention "if we''d settle the grog initiatives once and for all. "Other issues are school truancy, particularly at secondary level, and initiatives would need to dovetail into substance abuse and crime prevention initiatives." Mrs Braham says she'd like the two kilometre law to be better enforced. There should be better police response times and more police on the beat." In a house in a cul-de-sac in her area "there are some private homes and some public housing homes. "Two houses had visitors from bush, and they were really on the booze. "I didn't go near it. "And the people have to continually call the police to quieten the whole thing down. "It's so disruptive to the whole neighbourhood. "They shouldn't be doing it there, in people's back yards, 20 or 30 people having a big booze-up. "The Ton Council should start implementing their camping and dogs by-laws." Do we have a crime problem?Says Mrs Braham: "If you believe the Neighbourhood Watch figures, no. "But whether you believe them or not is another thing."I'm sorry Neighbourhood Watch doesn't report all the offences. They used to. "Lately they've been giving us funny figures, for example, just break-ins into residences. "They said there was only one in the CBD but that didn't really reflect what was happening in the business part of the town. "I don't think we're getting a true picture. "We'd like to know how many cars have been stolen, the number of assaults, how many people are arrested for grog running ... that's the information people would like to know to judge whether we have a crime problem. "Personally I don't think it's ra bad as we're led to believe. "I get very disappointed when people try to paint Alice Springs as having this huge grog and crime problem." Dr Lim denies that NT Safe is a flop: "We have $250,000 dedicated to NT Safe to which community groups can apply for grants of up to $15,000. "In the last 12 months $1m was provided to night patrol and warden schemes. "People in Alice Springs rate the Tangentyere night patrol very highly. NT Safe is a broader program than Living With Alcohol which is [for example] dedicated to encouragement of drinking light beer rather than heavy, and so on. "NT Safe looks at crime across the board." Cranking up commercial activities in the bush – such as Western Australia is doing it through establishing centres in remote communities that foster the world famous Aboriginal art – is not an option that appeals to Dr Lim. He says: "Alice Spráings provides the focus for Central Australia. "We are the home for Aboriginal art centres. "The Papunya Tula association has an outlet in Alice Springs. That's where people come to. "The people who buy the art come to Alice Springs." "The very short schedules" of tourists don't allow them to visit remote communities. Would new attractions in the bush not entice tourists to stay longer – a major objective for promoters of the industry?Dr Lim says there are some 30 communities involved in art "and to build 30 cultural centres would be cost prohibitive. "We have to prioritise and make sure everything we do has maximum return." "Araluen is now an NT Government body. [It makes sure] that a lot of art is exhibited. "Arts festivals get funding from the Department of Arts. "The NT Government makes sure that Aboriginal artists do not get ripped off by traders." Mrs Braham doesn't agree: ="I've seen Aboriginal artists ripped off. "The carpetbaggers are really bad in Central Australia and nothing seems to be done to stop that even though everybody seems to know about it. "Authenticity labelling should be done by the government. "I think we should have an Aboriginal art expo in Alice Springs. "That could highlight all the tremendous art available in this town. "If we did it with an auction by Sotheby's or a similar firm it would attract world wide attention. "There is a huge potential here but it's basically untapped. "You have small organisations like Desart trying to protect Aboriginal artists." She also says the government should promote a motion picture industry in The Centre: "We've obviously got great potential with people doing ads and films but we don't seem to be capitalising on them." žAsked to comment on his party's decision to give One Nation preferences ahead of the ALP, Dr Lim – himself of Chinese extraction – said: "There are no One Nation candidates in Alice Springs and it's not relevant to Central Australia."
BETTER PAY NEEDED TO END NURSING STAFF WOES. Report by KIERAN FINNANE.
"I never thought I'd be doing this. I started nursing in 1961, that's 40 years, and this is the first time I've taken industrial action." It's obviously not easy for nurses to impose work bans and take to a picket line, but last Wednesday, as officials arrived for the opening of stages two and three of the Alice Springs Hospital redevelopment, nurses were out in number – loud, determined, angry. Their frustration that Chief Minister Burke did not "walk the gauntlet", arriving by another entry, was palpable. They reasonably agreed to not interrupt speeches and put away their banners during the opening ceremony, in return for which he agreed to speak with a delegation. So when he referred from the podium to demonstrators having " snuck in", they understandably felt affronted. The Chief Minister then changed tack quickly and spoke in a more conciliatory tone. Later, having met with the nurses' delegation, he told the Alice News: "The way the union has communicated to them, it sounds as if the Government doesn't care about them, that's why they're angry. "If you talk to them, they're not picking off particular bits [of the EBA package], they're just angry at being unloved." There could have been no doubt that the focus of Wednesday's picket line was pay, central to the EBA negotiations: the nurses are demanding an 18 per cent pay rise to put them on a par with the nation's best; the Government at that point had offered 10 per cent over three years. "What do they get?" they chanted, referring to their patients. " Professional care," came the response. "What do we want?" "Professional pay!" However, the overwhelming issue that nurses on the picket line spoke of to the Alice News is chronic short staffing and the way it compromises the kind of care they want to give. The demand for a pay rise was seen in this context: without competitive pay they could see little chance of overcoming the Centre's nursing shortage. The nurse who told the News she'd never taken industrial action before said, "We are no longer able to give good professional care because there aren't enough nurses and there aren't enough resources. "The nurses are always left filling in the gaps." A senior nurse, who has worked in the hospital for nearly two decades, said, "We have a major retention problem in the Northern Territory. "So if we are getting less pay why are people going to come here? "We're ALWAYS working short staffed, we're ALWAYS begging people to do overtime and it will get worse as the year goes on, especially around the Christmas period as it does notoriously." A specialist nurse of long local experience said, "We are short staffed on a regular basis. "Last night was a horrible night, we were very busy, there aren't enough beds for all the sick people we've got, and it's changeover time – a lot of the doctors are on a three month turnaround. "There's good and bad in that, we learn a lot from new people but we also have to orientate them, teach them the ‘Alice way', and that can really add to our workload." The News asked a younger nurse if she often work short staffed. "Yep, most shifts. You've got less time with the individual patient, you can't deliver the care that you want to. It's just not very nice." Another young nurse chimed in: "It's dangerous as well because you don't have time to quickly look in on all your patients, you''re not sure what's happening there, you're trying hard to get there, you do eventually, but still that ierim's really dangerous, especially on night duty." So if nurses are feeling "unloved", they are very clear about why and they want very concrete solutions. Director of Nursing at the hospital, Ged Williams, was wearing a campaign badge when he spoke to the News. It read, "Dedicated nurses deserve rewards". He acknowledged the truth in a lot of what the nurses had said: " If they say it, then I respect it. I've got no intention of trying to undermine anything they said." But, he argued, the problems of the nursing shortage need to be s¬ een in context. It is not peculiar to Alice Springs, it's nationwide and worldwide. In Alice staffing levels as well as demand fluctuate considerably. "It's when you get two negatives together – low staff levels and high demand – that you really feel the pinch and people get tired and burnt out." That can happen in other hospitals too, but they might get some reprieve from a hospital down the road – not an option in Alice. And overall demand does seem to be on the rise. Over the last two years, the hospital has experienced a 10 per cent increase in workload (six per cent in 2000, four per cent in 1999, measured as Weighted Equivalent Inlier Separations). You thus might expect a 10 per cent increase in nursing staff but, says Mr Williams, it doesn't quite work like that. "We could ask for more nursing positions, but it is unlikely that we would be able to fill them all, because it's such a competitive market nationally and internationally."Some new positions have in fact been created – there are now eight additional nursing positions in the emergency department, which have not been taken from anywhere else and have all been filled. "Our emergency department is an area of high demand, very violent and rough, but for people who are attracted to emergency care, it's a good place to work. "So we've been able to recruit and fill those positions very quickly." More doctors have also been assigned to the department and a lot more treatment work is now carried out there. In the general wards, the strategy has been to increase support staff positions so that nurses can focus on caring for patients, rather than doing the paperwork, answering the phone, cleaning beds, and so on. Since April, says Mr Williams, the hospital has increased the number of PSA (Patient Services Attendant) and ward clerk positions in all the main ward areas. The clerks used to work Monday to Friday, from 8am to 4.30pm. They now work till 9pm, and also do the morning shift on weekends. "This is a substantial change to the model of management in the wards, but it's only relatively new. "If we give these types of strategies an opportunity to work, very soon the nurses will start to feel the effect and will be able to focus their energy more on patient care." He says the redevelopment of the hospital, a $31m investment, creating a pleasant working environment, is also a substantial retention strategy that will come into full effect when teething problems are over. In the medium to long term another strategy is to have Northern Territory University and Flinders University, together with the Centre for Remote Health, deliver undergraduate nursing training in Alice Springs. This may start as soon as next year. The hospital and Territory Health Services will meet part of the costs of the course; the universities appareßntly don't consider it cost-effective but "we see it as essential to this community", says Mr Williams. In the meantime, about 100 student nurses from those universities and others do placements in the hospital each year, and the hospital tries to get those who enjoy it to come back as employees. The hospital is also working with Centralian College to maintain its enrolled nurses' course which has just completed its first year. One of the nurses the News spoke to, herself a highly qualified specialist nurse, commented that enrolled nurses are "the forgotten nurses in the Territory". Mr Williams agreed: "They are paid the lowest of any enrolled nurses in the country that we are aware of. "That's got to be addressed. I understand that is a major plank of the Australian Nursing Federation in this EBA and we have recognised it in our career structure proposals." The same nurse, who entered the hospital as a junior nurseI 20 years ago, is bitter that she is not remunerated for all the extra study that has allowed her to specialise. Again, Mr Williams says that this should be changed. He says a career structure review, negotiated all the way with the ANF, has had solid support from nurses. It will introduce the notion of exemplary practice, an Australian first, both for registered and enrolled nurses. It will allow those who can demonstrate that they are exemplary in their practice – "at two levels, the really good, and the fantastic" – to stay at the bedside and be adequately remunerated and acknowledged. A number of nurses spoke to the News about the importance of incentives, over and above competitive pay. Mr Williams says conditions of service in the Territory are in fact among the best in the country: six weeks' paid leave, a seventhČ if you work 10 Sundays in the year; a 100 per cent loading if you work on Sunday. No other state offers these conditions. He says a higher loading is needed for night duty. At present it attracts a 15 per cent loading. The Government's EBA offer of 20 per cent would be "competitive with all other sates and better than some". "So if we can get the money to be competitive, the total package here will be the best in the country." But from his own research, presented and published in a number of national and international conferences and journals, Mr Williams knows that there are other important factors at play in nurses' job satisfaction: autonomy, respect from their colleagues and supervisors, acknowledgement of their contribution, and support in their own professional and personal development. "Money can't buy a lot of those things, they're about management behaviour, working as a team, čhaving regular staff meetings so there are opportunities to feed back to management concerns about the way care is provided." Yet, there is no direct correlation between job satisfaction and whether or not a nurse will stay: "Central Australia is not everyone's preferred place to live in the long term. "In a 1999 study I've published, the large majority of nurses really enjoyed working here and the large majority intended to leave within six months or less." The hospital has 285 full-time nursing positions and 220 new starters every year. That looks like about an 80 per cent turnover, but Mr Williams says the figure is artificially inflated by nurses who are passing through and work just a few shifts. He says 60 to 65 per cent of the nurses stay one year or more, and roughly 50 per cent stay two years or more. "That 50 per cent is a really stable core, and that is the group I rely on. ©"And then of course there is that very strong and stable core, the nurses like those you've spoken to, who've been here for decades. They are the backbone of this hospital and this community, they're the ones on the school committees, in the church and community groups – they're very valuable people and they need to be recognised. "We hold them in absolute high regard and are extremely fortunate and grateful to have them."
MATESHIP AND TOTAL ABSTINENCE ARE THE WAY TO KICK GROG HABIT. Report by DOROTHY GRIMM.
"Alcoholism is a cunning, baffling, powerful and sneaky disease. "It sneaks up on you when you are not looking and takes control of your whole life. "It is like an uninvited guest, most times very hard to get rid of. "I believe my life started when I got sober." Ann (not her real name) was reflecting on her life and her 18- year membership of AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. "I was married to an alcoholic, one of my children was run over and killed by an alcoholic, but I still drank," Ann said. "I didn't start out to be an alcoholic; in fact I'm one of the rare few that never did like alcohol. "I hated the taste and hated the smell and later on hated what it did to me. "We lived in mining towns and I worked three jobs to support my drinking." One day Ann was at her doctor's surgery about her physical problems, mainly spinal and obesity:"In the course of the conversation, he said to me ‘if you were a horse, I'd shoot you'."My only response was ‘I wish you would'. "He then turned his back to me and washed his hands. "I took that literally. "I was hurt and angry enough to decide to do something about it, so I decided to stop drinking long enough to lose weight and improve my physical health. "Previously I had found that I could always stop drinking for a week or even a month but I'd always go back to it." After about six weeks of not drinking Ann found that she liked being sober. But she knew that she could not stay sober alone. She tried to find out about "this thing called AA" but "did not have the brains" to look up it up in the phone book.She heard about an Al-Anon meeting being held in her small town.Al-Anon is a worldwide organisation which offers a self-help recovery program for the families and friends of alcoholics, whether or not the alcoholic seeks help or even recognises their drinking problem.Ann spoke to a lady from Al-Anon and got the contact number for the closest AA group – 250 kilometres away."This lady and her husband, an AA member, made their home available every second weekend so that I could attend meetings in their town," Ann said."I joined Al-Alon and AA at the same time."That was the beginning of my recovery."I was so humbled by the kindness of all the members that I asked my Al-Alon friend how I could return her kindness."She told me that the only way was to stay sober and show similar kindness to others."This is one of the hardest things to teach new members, to be able to receive the kindness of others."People do not know how to receive with gratitude; they do not understand that by not receiving the kindness of others that they are denying the giver the pleasure of giving."As an AA member, I have been taught to take responsibility for my own life and also to be responsible to AA."When anyone, anywhere reaches out for help, I want the hand of AA always to be there; and for that I am responsible."Alcoholics Anonymous is a voluntary, worldwide fellowship of men and women from all walks of life who come together to attain and maintain sobriety.The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking.There are no dues or fees.AA is a program of total abstinence.Members simply stay away from that first drink, one day at a time.There are about 63,000 groups and more than a million members in 114 countries."AA was founded in the United States in 1935 by a New York stockbroker and an Ohio surgeon, both now deceased, who were considered ‘hopeless' drunks'," Ann said."They found that if they talked to each other in fellowship, they could stay sober."They then went to a hospital and asked for another drunk who they could talk to and he became the third founding member of AA." AA grew with the formation of autonomous groups, first in the United States and then around the world. A society of peers, AA is concerned solely with the personal recovery and continued sobriety of individual alcoholics who turn to the fellowship for help. 12 STEPSSobriety is maintained through sharing experience, strength, and hope at group meetings and through the suggested Twelve Steps for recovery from alcoholism. Anonymity is the spiritual foundation of AA. Members strive to make known the program of recovery, not individuals who participate in the program. Anonymity is assured, especially to newcomers. AA keeps no membership records or case histories. The AA Fellowship has adopted a policy of "cooperation but not affiliation" with other organisations concerned with alcoholism; it has no opinion on issues outside AA and neither endorses nor opposes any causes.While there is no formal "AA definition" of alcoholism, most agree that for them alcoholism could be described as a physical compulsion coupled with a mental obsession."It is like there is a chemical in the brain that is triggered off by the first drink that says ‘give me, give me, give me more' and doesn't stop," Ann said. "That is why I cannot pick up one drink for one day. "It is like a continuous conflict. "One part of me says I do not want to be out of control but the other part says ‘give me.'"Obsession is part of the alcoholic's thinking; I can still be like that today which is one of the reasons I still go to AA. "The only difference today is that I can recognise my shortcomings and can accept that I have a disease. "Today I know that I can choose not to drink. "I have a choice today and make that choice on a daily basis." Ann said the AA program is simple but not easy:"All I have to do is not pick up one drink for one day."When I was told that at my first meeting, I thought, ‘Gee, that''s simple, why didn't I think of it?'."In my case when I wake up each morning I make a pledge to myself and to my God that I am not going to have a drink today."I believe that my sobriety is a gift from God and I treat it as a gift that I have to treasure in order to keep it."Ann said AA is not a secret society."AA encourages personal contact and humour and we have learned to laugh at ourselves," Ann said."The personality of the alcoholic is complicated in that though we need other people, we also tend to retreat within ourselves."Ann is also very suss of the physical damage alcohol can cause."Alcohol affects the stomach, liver and, most importantly, the brain," Ann said."We are lucky in that the average human does not usually use all their brain cells because the brain cells killed by alcohol can not be rejuvenated."It is believed that it is the destruction of brain cells which causes alcoholic blackouts."It is like the lights are on but nobody is at home."I would seem to be functioning normally to the outside world but not remember a thing."When I got sober I had to reteach my brain to do what would be considered normal things."I took Tai Chi because I heard that it teaches the opposite side of the brain, which we don't normally use much, to work."I also went back to school to learn new skills."A neurologist informed me that if I had continued to live the way I had, I would possibly have been in a wheelchair by the age of 45."That is when I decided I had to take care of my body as well as my mind."Alcoholics Anonymous holds two kinds of meetings, closed – for alcoholics only – and open.At open meetings one or more selected speakers usually share their experiences of alcoholism and their recovery in AA.On Saturday AA is holding a public awareness meeting at 3pm, CAAAPU, Lot 290, Ragonesi Road.The meeting is part of the annual Centralian Roundup. "Each year AA members from all over Australia come together for the four AA NT Roundups," Ann said."The first weekend they meet on the Douglas Daly River, then go to Darwin, then Katherine and finally to Alice Springs." The roundup starts on Friday night with a barbecue welcome and ends on Sunday with a spiritual concept meetingŪ followed by a barbecue lunch. Al-Alon is also participating. If people can't make the public meeting, members of AA and Al- Alon will be available all weekend at CAAAPU "for a chat and a cuppa". For more information, phone 8953 0802.
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