Ray’s comment, Posted September 26, 2012 at 9:29 pm, makes …

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

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).

Alex Nelson Also Commented

Briscoe Inquest: reduce supply of excess alcohol from take away outlets, says Coroner
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.”


Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Road Transport Hall of Fame is saved
This is great news to start the day. The lingering question in my mind is why the situation was allowed to get to the point where this major attraction was under imminent threat of being significantly reduced, and possibly under threat of closure.
Why endure the aggravation of crisis and emergency before action is taken to achieve a reasonable and satisfactory resolution for all involved?
Surely this outcome could have been negotiated in a more congenial and reasonable manner than apparently was the case.
However, at least this asset for Alice Springs looks set to be saved and for that we must be grateful.


Aboriginal flag on Anzac Hill: the nays have it 
@ Steve Brown (Posted February 16, 2018 at 10:02 am): I’m interested to know, Steve, when it was that TO’s dedicated Anzac Hill for the purpose it now serves as a war memorial? The memorial was first dedicated on Anzac Day, 1934, and as far as I’m aware local Aboriginal people had no involvement in it. Is there a subsequent occasion when this matter was addressed?


Jacinta Price reneges on council undertaking
If Jacinta Price does win preselection to stand as a candidate in the next Federal election campaign, she will not be the first to do so.
On his third attempt, John Reeves was elected in a triple by-election as an Alderman of the Alice Springs Town Council in April 1981.
He was the Labor candidate for the seat of the Northern Territory in the Federal election campaign of February-March, 1983.
Reeves was successful, and his departure from the Council contributed to another multiple by-election in April that year (this was the occasion when Leslie Oldfield was first elected as Mayor after the retirement of George Smith).
Alderman Bob Liddle resigned from the town council in 1987 to run as a candidate for the NT Nationals in the Federal election campaign in July that year. He was unsuccessful.
The NT Government had earlier changed the law so that resignations by council members who stood as candidates for NT and Federal elections were not reinstated as council members even if the candidates were unsuccessful (at present they are).
Alderman Di Shanahan had stood as a Labor candidate in the NT elections of March 1987 and was also unsuccessful. The law being what it was at the time, a double by-election was held for the Alice Springs Town Council. Neither Liddle or Shanahan chose to run again.
The NT Government subsequently reversed this law to the current situation now prevailing.


Bully buffel barges into natives’ live and let live harmony
I largely concur with Lindsay Johannsen’s observations about buffel grass; however, another mode of seed spread is via the digestive tracts of herbivores.
I pointed this fact out several years ago, beginning with observations of buffel seedlings germinating in euro (hill kangaroo) scats at Olive Pink Botanic Garden.
I followed this up with a germination trial of fresh euro scats I collected by the Todd River near the Old Telegraph Station – no buffel seedlings emerged but I did obtain couch grass and stinking lovegrass seedlings, both introduced species. There were no native species.
I can also confirm that termites do indeed consume buffel grass, including seeds gathered from the ground surface, but no way near enough to make any impact on the grasses (seed harvesting ants also consume buffel grass seeds).
I’ve taken quite a number of photos of termite activity in buffel grass; and indeed pointed out in an article published in the Alice Springs News over a decade ago that one species of termite that prevails in rocky hill slopes has become particularly partial to buffel grass.
On one damp overcast day at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden I observed (and photographed) termites actively and vigorously harvesting dead buffel foliage and stems during daylight hours. Every buffel clump I checked on the hillside at OPBG had termite activity associated with it, and I believe this works to the mutual advantage of both species but would have significant implications for the natural ecology assuming this situation applies on a wider landscape scale.


Story Wall, buffel and Jacinta
@ Kathy (Posted January 31, 2018 at 7:47 am): Unfortunately almost nothing of what you’ve claimed is correct. Here is a brief history – in the summer of 1951/52 the wet season failed completely, and much of northern and Central Australia was caught in the grip of a short but very severe drought. However, Central Australia experienced a wet winter in 1952 which prompted the growth of an enormous variety of native flowers and grasses. There were numerous claims by pastoralists of various species never having been seen before.
To the founding director of the Animal Industry Branch, Colonel Lionel Rose, this situation compounded his already strong awareness of the critical lack of knowledge of the natural ecology that underpinned the beef cattle industry. For this reason he gave significant material support to the establishment of the CSIRO’s permanent presence in Alice Springs in 1953; and the first permanent CSIRO officer, Bob Winkworth, immediately began to collect and collate specimens of native pasture species.
In 1954 the AIB itself finally gained its first botanist, George Chippendale, stationed in Alice Springs who immediately commenced work to establish a Herbarium of native plant specimens from across the NT. Bob Winkworth contributed his own collection to assist the establishment of the Herbarium.
The mid 1950s was generally a run of good seasons. Alice Springs was a cattle town and was actually one of the busiest railheads in Australia, transporting cattle from the southern half of the NT via the Central Australian Railway to markets in South Australia.
In 1958 the year went dry – it was the beginning of one of the worst droughts on record in the Centre. It was in this year that my father worked for the CSIRO but transferred back to the AIB in early 1959. He became offsider to botanist George Chippendale and was involved in a number of major botanical survey trips in the NT during the 1960s drought.
Central Australia and Alice Springs were not swept by “huge sand storms”, they were dust storms – and they blew up from overstocked pastoral leases that had denuded the natural vegetation of the region. The dust storms did not come from the true desert regions. My father personally observed and noted these conditions during his botanical survey trips.
The 1960s drought crippled the beef cattle industry in the Centre; conversely it assisted the rise of the tourism industry as an alternative economic basis for Alice Springs.
From the late 1940s onwards there had been a range of evaluation trials of buffel grass (amongst other species) for improved pasture. Ironically, at the start of the drought there was a lot of failure experienced with these trials and it looked as if buffel grass wasn’t suitable for introduction. However, a pasture species evaluation trial run by the CSIRO at AZRI during the 1960s drought indicated that, with the right conditions, buffel grass could be successfully established in limited areas.
However, it was the burgeoning tourism industry that provided the impetus for widespread establishment of buffel grass in the region. The major airlines TAA and Ansett-ANA wanted to introduce jet airliners to service Alice Springs but this would only proceed if the dust storms could be controlled. It was the need to control dust around the Alice Springs Airport that led to extensive sowing of buffel grass in the area from the late 1960s onwards, as a method to achieve soil conservation.
The 1970s were a reversal of the climatic conditions that dominated the 1960s. From 1973 onwards there commenced six years of well above average rainfall in the Centre. This happened to coincide with the collapse of the beef cattle market, leading to an enormous build-up of herd numbers in the Centre of largely unsaleable cattle. This led to concerns that the large herd numbers significantly exceeded the natural carrying capacity of the country; it was only the exceptional seasonal conditions that prevented an environmental catastrophe from occurring.
The establishment of buffel grass on many pastoral leases was systematically undertaken during this period, intended to alleviate the grazing pressure on natural pastures. In combination with the exceptional seasons, it was this program of well-intentioned soil conservation measures that triggered the invasion of buffel grass in the environment, still ongoing in many situations where it was never originally envisaged it would take hold.
In 1980/81 I was involved with a CSIRO project at AZRI to ascertain the grazing preferences of cattle at varying stocking intensities on mixed buffel/native grass pastures. It was discovered that cattle preferentially graze native grasses first before consuming buffel grass so this means that livestock assist buffel grass in outcompeting native species.
Buffel grass itself outcompetes most native plant species, that is well documented. In situations where buffel grass is removed (such as I helped to achieve at the Olive Pink Botanic Garden) and there is no grazing pressure, there is an immediate response in the return of native plant species. It’s easy to see the obvious differences of plant species diversity between areas dominated with buffel grass compared to those without buffel. It’s not difficult to measure.
Buffel grass does help stabilise soil and provides useful feed for livestock but so do native pastures when they are well managed and not abused by persistent overstocking of grazing animals.
There is no doubt, however, that buffel grass alone is the single greatest environmental threat by far across most of inland Australia, far more so than other officially recognised feral weed species, but in this case there remains a studious avoidance by government to do anything substantial about it.


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