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
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
video
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Extras
indybest
News
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
education
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
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
Latest stories from i100
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

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform