Night patrols keep the peace between brothers and sisters

ALICE NIGHTS

It's 10 o'clock on a balmy night in Alice Springs, and I am standing in a park with three Aboriginal youths who have just been detained for glue-sniffing. Stephen, Michael and Devon look disoriented. Devon, 12, says that he has not been home for four days. Jerry Doherty, my guide for the evening, explains: "They get hooked on glue. It can rot their brains and send them crazy.''

For the past three hours, I have been cruising in a van with Jerry and our driver, Victor Tapaya, around Alice and its Aboriginal camps. We are on Night Patrol, started a few years ago by the local Tangentyere Aboriginal Council to stop the public drunkenness and violence, which leads thousands of their people into prison cells. It has been a huge success, with Aborigines taking control of their own welfare.

To many Australians, the Northern Territory has always meant booze as much as heat, red dust and Ayers Rock. It has been renowned as one of the world's hardest-drinking places:people drink 50 per cent more than the Australian average, 80 per cent of 17-year-olds drink regularly and alcohol is involved in half of road deaths. While many remote, tribal Aborigines have shunned alcohol, for those in a town like Alice, booze has been the fatal link in a disastrous cycle of unemployment, bad health and imprisonment.

Much of this is starting to change, thanks to the Night Patrol. When I turned up at its headquarters in an Alice Springs back street last Tuesday, two young people were taking calls from the police, civilians and some of the 10 Aboriginal camps strung along the Todd river. On hearing of trouble from drunkenness and fights, they sent their fellow Aborigines, dressed in yellow Night Patrol T-shirts, to sort it out before the police intervened. On busy nights, calls come pouring in at one a minute.

But our first stop was to help a white man. Sidney, in his 60s, looked thin and worn-out, clutching his belongings in two plastic bags. He had been wandering Australia since he stopped working as a carpenter in 1982 and was planning to sleep the night in the park. "You don't do that in this town," Jerry told him. "You could end up dead." We drove him back to patrol headquarters, where he was offered a blanket and floor space. Then we headed for the camps. Jerry, the only white man on the patrol, is married to an Aboriginal. "We can link a stabbing among Aborigines to cultural overtones, such as a tribal `payback'," he told me. "White police might dismiss it as drunken domestic violence.''

Aborigines started the first Night Patrol in Tennant Creek, north of Alice, in 1988. That town had the worst relations between police and blacks of any in Australia, and alcohol-related crime had driven both sides to despair. It was the women who got the patrol up and running, because they and their children most felt such violence. Since the Alice Springs patrol began in 1991, the idea has spread and has helped to mitigate Australia's scandalously high rate of Aboriginal imprisonment. Except in extreme cases, drunks, whom police once would have thrown into cells, are driven to sobering- up centres for the night and given a severe dressing-down - usually by women.

The drinking way of life has changed for whites, too. Ever since the Northern Territory government doubled taxes on all forms of booze except low-alcohol beer, there has been a 42-per-cent drop in full-strength beer consumption and a fall of 26 per cent in alcohol-related road accidents. Light- beer sales are booming. Marshall Perron, the Territory's Chief Minister, who pushed the measure through parliament, said: "You won't stop a culture of drinking here in the tropics but I hope we can amend it so that `having a beer' means a light beer.''

There is hope in all of this, and also despair. When we met the glue- sniffing boys, I assumed the Night Patrol would sort out their problems but the police turned up and took them away. Later, I learnt one boy's mother had been ruined by alcohol and the other parents had lost control of their children. When I got home, I felt like more than a light beer.

Robert Milliken

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Service Desk Analyst- Desktop Support, Helpdesk, ITIL

£20000 - £27000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Service Desk Analyst - (Active Directory, Support, London)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst - (Active Di...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, VBA)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition