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

Manison: No slash and burn approach to fiscal emergency
Our economy is going broke because our politics is already bankrupt. On the 40th anniversary year of NT “responsible self-government” just look at where we’ve ended up.
The “bad old days” of Commonwealth control have never looked so good.

Human rights, centre stage
LongTermAlice (Posted December 14, 2018 at 9:27 am): My sentiments exactly. Congratulations to all award winners.

Former gallery advisor scathing about its planners
What’s the betting that old sign is going to do a rapid vanishing act?
Perhaps I should nominate it for heritage listing, pronto!

1 Territory too fixed on opposition to fracking: Lambley
@ John Bell (Posted December 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm): I don’t agree with you this time, John.
Here’s part of a comment I’ve made on another media website: “A lot of food for thought from this post. My earliest recollections of politics dates from the dying days of the McMahon Government which, ironically perhaps, was a time of great progress and optimism in the Northern Territory. It capped a time of extraordinary economic and population growth in the NT from the late 1960s onwards (when McMahon was the federal Treasurer), notwithstanding the contemporary mythology now of several decades standing (justifying NT Self-government) that this was the “bad old days” of Commonwealth control and mismanagement”.
@ Edan Baxter (Posted December 3, 2018 at 11:05 am): I have a quote for you, too: “As you say, the agreement made on 7 December 1907 between the Commonwealth and South Australia for the surrender of the Northern Territory to the Commonwealth is still in force” (Letter from NT Attorney-General, Daryl W. Manzie, 26 May, 1992). This still remains the case.
Incidentally, it was this letter from Daryl Manzie that first triggered my interest in Territory history; and what I realised after some time back then is that all is not well with the legal basis of self-government of the NT.
Hence my allusion to section 44 of the Australian Constitution and pointing out the Statute of Limitations does not apply to constitutional law in a recent comment:

Happy Birthday, Auntie, and good luck for the next 70.
The ABC ranks along with the CSIRO as the two great Commonwealth institutions of Australia, both of which have made immense contributions and are amongst our nation’s most important assets.
These two organisations set bench marks against which all else in their respective fields are compared.
It is good to know that at least one of these organisations continues to flourish in Alice Springs.

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