It’s worth noting that the Alice Springs Watchhouse, opened in …

Comment on Briscoe Inquest: reduce supply of excess alcohol from take away outlets, says Coroner by Alex Nelson.

It’s worth noting that the Alice Springs Watchhouse, opened in 1998, was designed and built in response to the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody two decades ago. I understand this fact was mentioned at the Briscoe Inquest.
The statistics for protective custodies (11,115 for Alice Springs in the 12 months to 30 April, 2012) quoted in this inquest mirrors the figures listed by Chief Minister Marshall Perron in his Ministerial Statement on Crime in Alice Springs of May 1990, when he observed that in “recent years” (late 1980s) the number of people taken into protective custody averaged 11,000 annually, which “suggested that half of the population of Alice Springs is found drunk on the streets at least once per year”.
Perron elaborated on these statistics: “The fact is that figures from the Alice Springs Sobering Up Shelter shows that 97 per cent of those admitted in the 12 months to June last year [1989] were Aboriginals: three quarters were male with an average age of 32 years – you can see why Aboriginal women marched against grog in Alice Springs last Saturday.
“129 people were each admitted 10 times or more during the course of the year; and one individual spent 123 nights in protective custody during the same year”.
In 1994 Mayor Andy McNeill stated that over 13,000 people were taken into protective custody in Alice Springs in 1991, which was his last full year as the Southern Region Assistant Commissioner for NT Police.
In regard to “Assistant Commissioner Mark Payne who has over 25 years experience of policing in the NT”, it’s worth being more specific about the length of his career in the NT Police.
Mark Payne was a classmate of mine at the Alice Springs High School in the late 1970s. I don’t know when he joined the NT Police but his career almost certainly stretches back over 30 years by now.
What was the local policing situation like when Mr Payne was a young constable? Well, the Alice Springs Town Council held a public meeting on alcohol abuse on 26 October, 1982, at which it was stated “20 out of every 22 people in the Alice Springs Hospital are admitted for alcohol related problems, according to the chief surgeon Charles Butcher” (“Liquor main illness cause”, Centralian Advocate, 29 October, 1982). This meeting addressed just about every aspect of alcohol availability, hours of sale, licence conditions, education programs, types of crime and all the rest of it that we are still debating today.
Simultaneously the then NT Health Minister Ian Tuxworth announced that “a series of sobering up centres in the Territory would be introduced within 12 months. The shelters will be used to take in drunk people overnight or until they sobered up”.
The Advocate used to have a regular column called Centre Sidelights; and one comment published on 26 May, 1982, is particularly relevant: “Man who came before Magistrate John Murphy in the Alice Springs Court last week was making his 145th appearance in the halls of justice. Of those appearances, 117 were on drink-related charges. Mr Murphy asked if we were concerned enough about what drink is doing to Aboriginal people. It would seem we are not.”

Alex Nelson Also Commented

Briscoe Inquest: reduce supply of excess alcohol from take away outlets, says Coroner
Ray’s comment, Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm, makes an interesting observation that is echoed from an article published in the Centralian Advocate 30 years ago, which is quoted extensively below:
“Aboriginal deaths caused by alcohol in Alice Springs have reached numbers that frighten police, doctors, coroners and Government Ministers.
“Alcohol as the primary cause of death, in lay man’s terms literally drowning in the stuff, caused just one death last year. However, when one considers secondary causes, more than 100 Aborigines have died as a result of a drunken stupor in the past 18 months.
“The alcohol was consumed mostly in the Todd and Charles River beds.
“Statistics that show blood alcohol contents of up to 0.34 per cent confirm Alice Springs as the worst town in Australia for Aboriginal drink deaths.
“Autopsy records and statistics show the cause of these deaths as loss of blood, smashed skulls and other injuries.
“Sweet sherry, muscat and wine fortified with raw spirits are the real killers.
“All types of grog are consumed in huge amounts and recent restrictions on the amount of one type allowed to be sold seems to make no difference to the death count.
“Some of the men and women who have died as a result of drink have been as young as 25 and to be dead drunk at 35 is not uncommon.
“Port Hedland in Western Australia has about six such deaths a year.
“Alice Springs has the reputation of being the worst town in Australia for the numbers of Aborigines who end up on a slab in the morgue after drinking.
“The Port Hedland hospital serves a town of 17,000 with an Aboriginal population of about 10 per cent in the area [however] the problem was nowhere the size in Port Hedland as it was in Alice Springs.
“The story was much the same in other towns in Australia with substantial numbers of Aboriginal residents.
“Although most did not approach the 25 per cent of Aborigines living in the Centre the proportion of drink deaths was way below that of Alice Springs.
“Bourke in NSW does have a 25 per cent Aboriginal population but only had two drink deaths in the last six months” (“Many die from the grip of the grape”, Centralian Advocate, August 18, 1982).
I’ll leave the final word to Central Australia’s most revered Aboriginal personality, Albert Namatjira, whose observations on this topic reported 60 years ago has proven dreadfully prophetic:
“Albert Namatjira wants full citizenship rights. He believes that some of his people are entitled to it but is frightened at the thought of what would happen if some in the town areas were given their “freedom”.
“They would drink liquor like water,” said the strong featured, quietly spoken artist when asked his views on the subject this week” (“Namatjira wants citizenship rights, Centralian Advocate, October 24, 1952).


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Turn rock-throwing into backflips: how community can help
I smile at the circularity of Rainer Chlanda’s preferred location of a youth hub without walls at the “courthouse lawns” (DD Smith Park), adjacent to the Alice Springs Police Station (the former Greatorex Building) and across the road from the local magistrates courthouse.
I say “circularity” because the first drop-in centre for youth on the streets at night was located in the old police station on that corner where the courthouse now stands. Established in 1976, it was named “Danny’s Place” and lasted all of no more than a year when it was forced to shut down to make way for the said courthouse.
And from that time on, youth drop-in centres, real or proposed, have bounced around from one site to another all through town; including an old house in the north end of Todd Street that was demolished to make way for an office block (now called Eurilpa House), the empty Turner Arcade – the last shop there was Grandad’s icecream shop, a once popular hang out for kids of my generation, also in the north end of Todd Mall (that was my suggestion, nearly 30 years ago) which was later bulldozed to make way for expanding Alice Plaza and new carparking spaces; and even the abandoned waterslide site in the early 1990s, which instead was demolished to make way for infill real estate development (Mercorella Circuit, near the YMCA).
We have decades of recent history of kids in trouble (or causing it) being shunted from pillar to post. As a society, history shows we’re not really fair dinkum about resolving this issue.
Sadly, there is nothing new in any of this – Rainer’s father and his colleagues were reporting on these kinds of issues 40 plus years ago, and it continues unabated to the present day.


Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
@ 5 Minute Local (Posted June 14, 2018 at 5:41 pm): Definitely living up to your pseudonym. Your suggestion is not a new idea – it’s been raised several times since the early 1970s.
The last occasion was when the construction of the railway north to Darwin was being finalised in the late 1990s-early 2000s when there was significant lobbying of the NT Government to re-route the railway around Alice Springs, including by the Alice Springs Town Council.
I also took up the cudgels on this issue as an individual and was publicly criticized by a local CLP member, notwithstanding the same member several years earlier had himself advocated the removal of the rail yards out of the town centre and to re-route the eventual railway to Darwin via west of the town.
These pleas were rejected by the government as being too late or too expensive (it would have added about three per cent to the overall cost, from memory). There’s no prospect of this happening now.


Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
@ John Bell (Posted June 13, 2018 at 7:51 pm): John, the only sacred trees on the Melanka site would be (or are) two old river red gums near the southeast corner adjacent to the intersection of Stuart Terrace and Gap Road.
None of the other trees I’m aware of on that site are local native species nor predate the construction of the Melanka Hostel.
This includes the towering lemon-scented gums of which the majority are now dying or dead as a consequence of lack of care and the extended dry conditions.
Consequently the trees don’t pose any significant issues for redevelopment of most of that area, at least as far as sacred sites are concerned.


Wakefield insists on Anzac Oval, ignores majority
@ Hal Duell (Posted June 12, 2018 at 7:59 am): Hal, I’m still in the process of collating information. Gathering the history pertaining to this location is rather like measuring a piece of string but it all adds up to demonstrating the considerable heritage value of this site, the extent of which I think will surprise many people.
The nomination for heritage listing of the oval and school will definitely proceed.
The fact that this issue has blown up in the NT Government’s face demonstrates the stupidity of over-reliance on advice from vested interests (with no regard for anything except their bank accounts) and overpaid outside “experts” who have no background in local knowledge.
Once again we see the consequences of the corporate amnesia that afflicts this town and Territory, and history shows it makes no difference which party is in power.


Cemeteries could be turned into parks
There is another method of burying the dead which is also held to be environmentally friendly, it is called “promession”.
According to the Wikipedia entry on this subject, it’s a system of disposal of bodies of much more recent origin (two decades ago) than alkaline hydrolysis (19th century).
It involves cryogenic freezing of bodies in liquid nitrogen to -196°C (in effect, crystallising them) after which vibrations are applied that shatter them in minutes into fragments.
This material in turn is freeze dried and all metal or other non-natural components (eg. fillings, artifical joints) are removed.
The final stage involves “the dry powder being placed in a biodegradable casket which is interred in the top layers of soil, where aerobic bacteria decompose the remains into humus in as little as 6 to 12 months.”
Invented in Sweden, it’s a method already expressly adopted in South Korea and has expressions of interest from up to 60 other countries.
I think promession also deserves consideration as an option for burials.


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