The Curse of White Man’s Water: Aboriginal People and the Control of Alcohol
University of New England Law Journal, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2007
1 Pages Posted: 7 Sep 2010
Date Written: September 6, 2007
The question of how to respond to the devastating impact of alcohol on Indigenous communities continues to be controversial. Recently the Northern Territory and Commonwealth governments have attempted to address the problem, introducing extensive changes to the way in which alcohol is regulated. The underlying concern of these recent initiatives is the protection of Aboriginal people from the devastating effects of alcohol. Alcohol has consistently been linked to high levels of crime and violence, significant health problems and loss of cultural identity in Aboriginal communities. For example recent statistics from the Northern Territory show that in the four years from 2001 there was an average of 2000 assaults and 110 sexual assaults per year that were related to alcohol. Between 1992–2001 the Northern Territory recorded the highest proportion of deaths and hospitalisations related to alcohol in Australia. Many recent studies have also associated loss of cultural identity with alcohol abuse. From early in Australia’s history alcohol was used to barter for the sexual services of Aboriginal women and as payment for Aboriginal labour. Langton notes that alcohol was used by the colonisers to seduce Aboriginal people into interacting with white society politically, economically and socially. The question of how to regulate the consumption and distribution of alcohol to Aboriginal people has continued to occupy courts and legislatures in Australia ever since. This article follows the development of the legal control of Aboriginal people’s consumption of alcohol and the distribution of alcohol to Aboriginal people from the 1950s on, focusing on Australia’s Northern Territory. The interaction between Aboriginal people and alcohol has been a source of tension in the relationship between white people and Aboriginal people since colonisation. It is concerned with understanding the transitions from government managed top-down prohibition during the 1950s, to various regulatory regimes that relied upon Aboriginal people’s collaboration in their design and implementation over the intervening period, to the recent return to top-down regulation of alcohol. The article explores the tensions involved in the approaches to regulation of Aboriginal people’s drinking and shows how the ideas underlying the assimilation policy are reflected within new approaches to alcohol regulation.
Keywords: alcohol, assimilation policy, alcohol regulation, Indigenous communities, Northern Territory
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