I don’t often write about the actual town in which we live. It is not indicative of what I value, just that I find smaller, everyday events more interesting to write about. But today I want to share a few things with you. For those of you who follow national news, you will be aware of the social troubles we’ve had here in Alice Springs for the last six months or so. They have always been here but escalated particularly badly last year with domestic violence and crime rates reaching untenable heights. I am writing to explain what this has been like to live with while going through a Pandemic and all of its far reaching effects in a regional town.

Just as we were emerging from Covid restrictions, previously established alcohol ban regulations finished. Not wanting to be accused of racist actions, because the alcohol bans were mostly in place to deal with indigenous abuse, the government held back from reinstating them and within months things spun out of control. It wasn’t until there was a town meeting of over two thousand locals that the government realised they had to actually do something more than send extra police to clean things up as a temporary measure.

The issues lie at the feet of the past and present governments, both local and federal, who have failed to do the required consultation and work to establish helpful systems for the growing population of indigenous people in the country. But here, where the Indigenous population is 30%, with a high itinerate number sleeping rough, camping in the river bed, and gathering opportunistically in air conditioned spaces in town, the cracks in the system are seriously widening. And given Alice is a small, isolated town of 28,000, there is no avoiding the effects. It is in our faces. It is a thousand miles (1500 kilometres) in any direction to the next biggest town.

At its worst near the end of 2022, most of us stayed away from town after about 5pm. Even then, my girlfriend was driving through town at 4.30pm and had her car pelted with fist sized rocks, a favourite activity of young hoodlums. Most of these kids are ages 10-17 (some even younger) and the truth is, they have nothing to lose and all the time in the world to create whatever havoc they can. Many of the youth turn to self-abuse in various forms, sniffing things like aerosols and drinking things like mouthwash, vanilla extract and even hand sanitiser. These are cheaper than alcohol, but that is there too. It will kill them, but meanwhile it destroys their brains and inhibitions so they become more and more violent and aggressive and lacking in judgement. To try and keep it from their hands the groceries lock it in cabinets, so that when the rest of us want to buy it for legitimate and proper uses, we have to get a staff member to unlock the cabinet for us. (See photo)

The locked cabinet with deodorant, mouthwash, vanilla extract and flavour essences, sanitiser, rubbing alcohol etc.

For the immediate future, the government has put into action new rules for the purchase of alcohol. These apply to everyone, not just indigenous people. A person can buy alcohol from Wednesday to Friday, 3pm to 7pm, on Saturday and public holidays, except Christmas Day and Good Friday, 11am to 8pm, on Sunday from pubs with drive-through bottle shops and clubs for members only from 12 noon to 9pm. Alcohol is one of WHO’s social determinants of health. It is a complex, intergenerational problem than I am not equiped to fully explain and it won’t be sorted out in a year or two or even a decade or two. It’s also important to point out, this is not a race issue for most of us, it is a behavioural issue.

As recently as mid January a group of threatening youth were gathered in the shopping centre with machetes and aggressive behaviours, which had to be diffused. We were away at the time. Nearly every night there were break-ins and thefts. The joy riders steal vehicles and drive recklessly around town until they crash or until they are caught, or they abandon the vehicles…sometimes 20 in a single night. One morning I had an optician’s appointment in the shopping centre where I do most of my grocery shopping. At 8.30am while waiting for the shop to open, a very loud drunk was bouncing all about the centre, fortunately with someone more sensible who kept him on task to get him out the door. At times the centre was so filled with filthy, badly behaved people I would not go near the place. The parking lot smelled like a toilet and everywhere I stepped that day had a large splat of spit because many people think spitting is not an invasive act, but some kind of human right. Spitting is also one of the regular, aggressive behaviours perpetrated against the general public as well as police.

The police rounded up many of the itinerants and put them on buses back to their communities where their elders have the option of declaring their communities ‘dry’ or voting to allow alcohol if 60% of inhabitants want it so. At the moment they all seem to have chosen to remain dry. But here in town, the warning was out, as soon as the trouble makers could figure out ways around the new regulations, the recent, quieter conditions would end. And they have. There are sirens and the sound of squealing tyres again. The situation is very fluid, perhaps a very apt description given some of the behaviours.

You can layer all of the above with the uncertainty of food supplies due to availability of food, or persons to stock the shelves, or washed out roads and flooded areas in the southern states, even as recently as last week. The last year has not been easy. No, we did not have earthquakes and flooded homes here in Alice, nor did we have huge numbers of Covid cases, but we had uncertainty, damage and anxiety that has threatened to tear the town apart. I also hasten to add, we are not the only town facing these problems. It is a national and global trend. We have heard many stories while traveling that attest to this.

I tell you all of this so that you can understand, when we had the big storm in November, then our personal health problems throughout the year and especially at the end, it was challenging in its way. We are committed to staying here because we know what a special place this is and have loved living here for over 30 years, but people are leaving, and many businesses are closed. It remains a beautiful place with many lovely people, including many indigenous and other nationalities. There are only a couple thousand who would have sought to destroy it. I hope I am here to see the beginning at least, of genuine change.

There is no perfect place. I still enjoy my morning walks, visits from the locals (see photos above), exchanges with neighbours in a nice neighbourhood. That is not nothing. In fact, I talk mostly about the positives in my posts, because if we don’t celebrate the beauty and joy in our lives, how will we know what we have to lose?

Why do you live there?

Is often the question.

On this crisp cerulean sky morning

I look up and gliding along a thermal

the wedge tail eagle surfs alone.

Then suddenly brings in wings

closer to its body and dives

steeply, purposely, over and over,

joyously exploiting this perfect morning.

I stand there, hanging out washing,

wondering, which is the superior being?

This is my new answer.

–Ardys Zoellner

The recent full moon on my morning walk.