The May 1885 depiction of an Aboriginal performance mimicking drunkenness …

Comment on ‘Proper’ drinking: elusive goal but how hard have we tried? by Alex Nelson.

The May 1885 depiction of an Aboriginal performance mimicking drunkenness as “a little satire on civilisation” was echoed in the Bangtail Muster of May 1, 1966, when a float entered by the Amoonguna community attracted comments from two publications reporting on the parade.
The Inland Review noted: “And Aborigines from Amoonguna had their own subtle snipe at the color question and their over-publicised drinking habits on an appropriately decorated float.”
The Centralian Advocate reported: “Amoonguna Aboriginal settlement gave an enlightening enactment of “the old and the new”. Myall, old-style Aborigines preceded the float while, at the rear, the “modern type” sat down with beer and plonk.”
Their float had a sign declaring “Fruit Pickers Unite and Save the South,” a reference to the widespread scheme then operating of despatching Aboriginal workers from remote communities to orchards and farms across Australia to provide labour for harvesting crops.
This send-up of themselves was a sad reflection of how quickly circumstances deteriorated for Aboriginal people in the NT, as it was just two years after the passing of the Social Welfare Bill that gave them equal rights to alcohol. In previous parades featuring floats (the Jubilee Parade of 1951, the Coronation Parade of 1953, and the Bangtail Muster from 1959 onwards, Aboriginal people had pride of place as traditional warriors and performers, staging corroborees on Anzac Oval after the march up Todd Street was completed).
Two months later, in early July 1966, NT Supreme Court judge Alan Bridge made headlines in Alice Springs when he launched a forceful, dignified commentary on the alarming deterioration of behaviour of “wasters” in society leading to “an increasingly disturbing pattern of local crime” and “an acute and growing social problem.”
Justice Bridge asked “that his comments be passed on to the appropriate authorities.” Sadly, momentum on this issue was lost when he died suddenly about two weeks later.
A year later residents at Amoonguna were fleeing to Alice Springs to avoid the mayhem caused by alcohol abuse at that community; but this was just the beginning of a searing period of crime and disruption on many Aboriginal communities and settlements during the 1970s which finally led to many becoming declared “dry” in attempts to reduce the harm.
I’ve become interested in the fate of the Jay Creek settlement west of Alice Springs. A new sign erected there last year states the community was abandoned in the late 1960s when Amoonguna opened – this is completely false.
Amoonguna opened in late 1960 but Jay Creek remained a prominent community right into the 1980s. However, unlike other nearby communities, Jay Creek did not seek to be declared a dry community in the late 1970s so almost certainly it was a haven for drinkers.
Interestingly, there is a small cell block at Jay Creek for which there is no known documentation. It’s assumed that it was built by the white authorities that ran the settlement for many years but there is no evidence for it.
What is overlooked is that many Aboriginal men in the 1950s and 60s were trained, competent builders on the missions and settlements, and examples of their work survive in many places. My suspicion is that little jail at Jay Creek was an attempt by Aboriginal residents to impose control on trouble-makers at that community.
In the end it was too much and by the end of the 1980s Jay Creek was abandoned.

Recent Comments by Alex Nelson

Ways of being: beyond the beauty of Papunya paintings
In a profile on Rex Battarbee published in early May 1970 – preceding the beginning of the Papunya art movement by just a year or so – he was asked “about the future of Aboriginal paintings in the Centre.
“He looked thoughtful under bushy eyebrows and said: I think there is room for another school of painting – but it must be completely different.
“It needs a good teacher to get it going, someone who is prepared to stay, not only in Alice Springs, but perhaps on a mission.
“A new outlook on art would be a good thing. It would not want to be too modern; the public want to buy something they can see in this country”. (“A little does a lot … Don’t teach too much says the artist who made Namatjira,” by Bob Watts, Centralian Advocate, 7/5/70).


Private forecaster tips massive rains for Alice
As I type this comment, the path of Tropical Cyclone Trevor is now forecast to head directly for the massive McArthur River zinc, lead and silver mine near Borroloola.
I guess we will soon see if this precipitates a major environmental disaster in that vicinity.


Councillor passes buck to staff
The suggestion for wards is nothing new. It was suggested in 1987-88 when the rural area was incorporated within the Alice Springs Municipality but was firmly rejected by the NT Government and the town council.
The idea was raised and debated again during the mid 1990s but again was firmly knocked on the head.
Ironically, the town was divided into wards during the period of the Alice Springs Progress Association, which existed from 1947 to 1960.
The ASPA was a lobby group organised by civil-minded residents of the town to raise issues of concern with the NT Administration.
It was the precursor of local government in the Alice, and was replaced by the Alice Springs Town Management Board that in turn preceded the Alice Springs Town Council.
The town’s population was much smaller, growing from about 2000 in the late 1940s to over 3000 by 1960; despite this small population, the town was divided into three wards plus the Farm Area along what is now Ragonesi Road.


Heat rises on cooling plan
The rate of tree decline and deaths is rising significantly, including along streets, and in parks and home gardens. It has become very noticeable in recent weeks; kurrajongs in particular have become susceptible but so also are a number of eucalypt and other non-local native species.
The prolonged dry conditions of the last two years and severe high temperatures of this summer have now reached a point where many trees and shrubs are unable to survive without care and intervention. This situation is likely to accelerate during the course of this year.


The Florence Nightingale from the bush
Rona Glynn’s achievements occurred in a time most often condemned as the “bad old days” of Commonwealth control in the NT.
She remains an outstanding example of what other people like her achieved in those times, and I’m hard-pressed to believe there has been much improvement for Indigenous people in our supposedly more enlightened and educated era of self-determination from the 1970s onwards – in particular, the collapse of education standards and achievements since I was a boy.
I’m one of those 2000 babies born at the Alice Springs Hospital when Rona Glynn was the Charge Sister of the Maternity Ward, during an emergency situation that threatened the survival of my mother and myself.
Dr John Hawkins, another remarkable personality who was then a fairly new surgeon at the hospital, saved both our lives.
I’m mindful that not so long afterwards, Rona Glynn’s life could not be saved in similar circumstances.
Her untimely passing was a great loss to Alice Springs but, perhaps more significantly, as a shining example of achievement for Aboriginal people contending with an ever-changing world.


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