Alcohol outlawed at Uluru in sex abuse crackdown

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The Independent Online

For tourists visiting Australia's Red Centre, a favourite pursuit is sipping a cold beer while watching the sun set over Uluru, the giant monolith formerly known as Ayers Rock. From next month, though, they will be breaking the law.

As part of its crackdown on child sexual abuse in Aboriginal desert communities, the federal government is introducing a six-month ban on alcohol. "Rivers of grog" were cited as the main reason for the epidemic of abuse in a report earlier this year.

From 10 September, alcohol will be outlawed within the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which, as well as iconic Uluru, contains a collection of rocks formerly called the Olgas.

Although people staying at Yulara, a resort just outside the park, will not be affected, the liquor ban has upset tourism officials. Steve Rattray, the chairman of the Central Australian Tourism Industry Assocation, said that it would detract from the enjoyment of visitors.

Mr Rattray gave the example of "grey nomads that have alcohol in their vehicles, or in their fridges or in their eskies [cool boxes], that happen to be [there] at sunset, and think, 'gee, it'd be nice, this is a lovely, beautiful, mystic place, let's just have a little glass of wine while we watch the sun go down'."

Mutitjulu, an Aboriginal community located 500 yards from the western end of Uluru on the other side of a sandhill, is believed to have played a major role in the government's decision to launch its radical "intervention" in the Northern Territory.

Last year an ABC television report alleged that young girls in the community, home to about 250 people, were being prostituted for petrol and children as young as five had sexually transmitted diseases.

Those, and other revelations about indigenous child abuse in the Territory, prompted an official inquiry that reported in June. Its findings so shocked Prime Minister John Howard, he says, that he launched his unprecedented action, overriding the Territory government.

The people of Mutitjulu, living in the shadow of the Rock, claim they have been unfairly vilified, and that the paedophile responsible for the abuse left long ago. Nevertheless, they were among the first communities to receive a visit from a government task force, comprising police and soldiers.