Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Alice Springs drinking stories

  • 19 August 2011

On my last night in Alice, we went out to the pub. We drank and danced with some locals, who were as warm and funny as you'd expect in a remote country town.

One woman, Patricia, for whom English was a fourth language, had moved to Alice to be with her husband, and was doing a course intended to get her work-ready. She said she missed being home and with her family a lot, but liked living in Alice, because she was with her husband. Her manner of speech was beautiful. When she invited us to her table, she said, 'Come, I'll tell you a story.'

The racial current in Alice is difficult, as an outsider, to understand. On the one hand, there are town-camps for Aboriginals, and the early-opening pubs that are frequented by local Aboriginals are known colloquially as 'animal bars'. These two facts alone, notwithstanding some of the dodgier NT Intervention policy, are incredibly confronting to my East-coast sensibilities.

On the other hand, it's a place that constantly reminds one of Australia's pre-colonial history, and, like finding bulletholes in Roman ruins that poke through Gothic laneways in Barcelona, just how powerfully a people's long history in a place can haunt it.

While I did some grocery shopping one evening, I stopped by the liquor shop to pick up a cask of wine. As a poor person (I don't even have the excuse of being a student anymore), I generally veer towards value for money. But Coles and Woolworths had set 'floor prices' for liquor before I arrived in Alice. The cheapest bottles of wine available were $8, and casks had been removed from sale.

I splurged and bought a $14 bottle. What the heck, I thought. We'll be civilised tonight.

This initiative by Coles and Woolworths, of setting a regulated lowest price per standard drink, was trialed for a few months in 2006. Back then, the alcohol consumption rate dropped by 20 per cent. Its instantaneous effect on my own alcohol choice was remarkable.

The interesting thing about this initiative is that it is not a policy imposed as a part of the Intervention, but voluntarily taken up by local businesses in response to pressure from community bodies, such as the People's Alcohol Action Coalition.

It's clear the Territory has a serious drinking problem. The Intervention has not delivered significant outcomes in relation to substance abuse, but locally endorsed initiatives have.

Petrol-sniffing, for example, has