Aboriginal communities in Australia are facing a dilemma: preserve hard-won freedoms or cede some control to their former oppressors? At the center of this tug-of-war is the consumption and possible prohibition of alcohol in Aboriginal communities. According to a recent New York Times article, alcoholism is a major issue for the native population resulting in problems like domestic violence, child abuse, unemployment, health problems, increased crime and accidents.
After a long history of subjugation and oppression by the colonial whites who moved in on Australian territory long ago, Aborigines became equal under the law in 1967. Since then, Aborigines have had equal access to rights ranging from State-sponsored welfare payments to the right to legally purchase and consume alcohol. Once the prohibition on drinking was lifted, it seems as if a number of Aborigines took too kindly to the bottle to the detriment of their communities.
Take Hall’s Creek in northern Australia for example, “about half of the town’s population has alcohol-related problems, including 300 to 600 people with serious health issues like brain damage, said David Shepherd, a senior doctor at Halls Creek Hospital. Young women born with fetal alcohol syndrome are giving birth to babies with the same illness.” Concerned about issues such as child welfare and the proper use of government funds, Australian officials have begun regulating alcohol sale/purchase in some areas. Additionally, the government is keeping a close eye on how welfare funds are spent, going so far as to “have 70 percent of [Aboriginies’] benefits restricted to paying for essentials like food, rent and utilities, a strategy intended to reduce their purchase of alcohol.” Continue reading