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)
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.
The recent full moon on my morning walk.
Thank you, Ardys for having put this down . . . I am thinking of what to say and will not do this tonight. But would you mind if I reposted this in the morning to a group of friends and blogfriends – with very little additional comment? You have enunciated an ectremely difficult situation as an insider in a very powerful way. I would like some I know toread this . . . . hugs and love and thanks , hoping Don’s eye injections are making life a little easuer . . . Eha
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That’s fine Eha. It seemed like a valuable thing to get out there given the many misconceptions in the media. Don’s eye is still a work in progress, poor guy. He is handling it well but it isn’t easy. xx
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‘A Town like Alice’
an insider story of Alice Springs
at the moment
If Australia is home there is no way you would not be aware of the social tragedies which have been unfolding in the northern part of the Continent, especially in the Red Centre. Deeply appreciating the matter-of-fact way Ardys has related the evolving facts in the town she and husband Don have called home for 30 years, I was going to call attention to the post as far as local friends and acquaintances were concerned – then thought the tragically sad situation might be replicated in differing ways wherever is home for you. There are no easy solutions or fast fixes here where gangs of mostly indigenous youth, some below the age of ten, have virtually taken over the town . . . alcohol definitely not being the whole of the problem! Ardys herself is American-born and a wonderful communicator . . . make a cup of coffee and sit down for a thoughtful read . . . . love Eha
PS ‘A Town like Alice’ . . . I wonder how many remember the book by Neville Shute . . . and the film by the same name – nought to do with the current situation . . . E
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You have described with local insight fairly what is happening in your town… The Alice so central geographically and large a reputation; it’s easy to forget it and its infrastructure is small town compared with capital cities, yet surely it is the capital of central Australia. We have lived in other localities, and still reside in an area, where there are social issues but not to the extent of Alice Springs. I hope that genuine change you hope for comes about sooner. Your closing sentence really resonates… the only other way we kniw what there is to lose, if for it to be lost. And so much has much already been lost.
Sorry for the delayed comment… life, etc. But it’s given me time to think on what you’ve written, my view is similar and I really like that wabi sabi as it may be, our conditons same same but different -right down to the eagle and the washing- allow us to bloom where we are planted.
Thanks Dale. I knew you were otherwise engaged late last week, from your Instagram feed. I felt my posts were not balanced as authentically as they might be, without giving some background about what living here has been like lately. There are things changing on a weekly basis at the moment and it will be painful for some. Surely, eventually, some things will change for the better for everyone. xx
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Thank you Ardys… I hope along the same lines you forgive the typos too… I realised this morning how late last night it was when I commented and how many there were.
We have interest and concern about such things and from our own experience, travels, your posts over the years which convey insight, and the news media we’re somewhat across it as much as someone who doesn’t reside at the location in question can be.
When years ago we lived near The Block at Redfern and in inner-city Sydney it was hard to explain to people why, what it was really like on balance, what the attraction was despite the challenges, and similarly to a certain extent where we live now, so I sort of get it.
It was a thought-ful, care-ful post and very generous of you to share it.
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Joanna Smith said:
I’m sorry to hear about the social troubles in Alice Springs. It’s really tough to go through a pandemic and see all the negative effects it has on communities. Thank you for sharing your story and letting us know what it’s been like.
Thank you for reading and commenting Joanna. I’m sure everyone who has lived through the last few years has a story that none of us has heard but the more we know the more we can appreciate our own lives and also the difficulties others are facing.
Zoe Brown said:
Thank you for sharing your experience of living in Alice Springs during such a challenging time. It is disheartening to hear about the social troubles that have been plaguing your town, especially with the added stress of the pandemic. It is important for us to acknowledge the impact that systemic issues such as domestic violence and crime have on communities, particularly on marginalized groups.
I appreciate your point about the alcohol bans being mostly in place to deal with indigenous abuse and the government’s hesitation to reinstate them for fear of being accused of racism. This raises the question of how we can address these issues without perpetuating harmful stereotypes and discrimination. How can we create effective policies that address the root causes of these problems while also being sensitive to the needs and experiences of all members of the community?
I hope that your town can find a way to heal and move forward from this difficult time. Thank you again for sharing your perspective.
Thank you for your thoughtful reply Zoe. Yes, the systemic issues that have not been effectively addressed are at the root of these current and ongoing problems. I have great compassion for those kids growing up in dysfunctional homes and communities. I don’t think our forefathers understood the far reaching effects of their deeds and we are all paying the price now. My own contribution is small, but if everyone contributes in their small way it can have large positive outcomes.
Kim Smith said:
Oh Ardys, I’m sorry you have to endure this distressing situation. I read your post on Friday but was too upset about it to put my thoughts into words. In fact, I’m still at a loss for words. I’ve always thought of small towns as havens from the violence of larger urban places, but that’s clearly not the case anymore. I hope your beloved town is able to find ways to make life better for everyone.
Thank you Kim. I truly hope I didn’t upset you too much. I wavered about publishing this because it is out of my usual subject matter, which I try to keep thoughtful and upbeat. However, reality has to be acknowledged. Yesterday I dropped into our main grocery store to buy a loaf of bread, only to find the produce section devoid of any fruit and vegetables! It seems on top of everything else one of the main national refrigerated truck delivery companies has gone bust and is in liquidation so yet another hassle to overcome. And this morning on the news we’ve learned that Australia Post has had to stop deliveries to over 200 homes due to violence against postal delivery persons. It’s a real shit-show around here just now. I feel safe at home, but have no idea what to expect when I go out, so I seldom do. I do believe it will get better. It has to. This is the primary service centre for the whole of Central Australia and has been for over 100 years. I would just like to see some different strategies used, to actually help people out of their hole of desperation. xx
Kim Smith said:
Oh my gosh, please be safe and keep us posted on how things are going.
Ardys, it’s fairly disturbing to read news from just about any source around the world these days. Historically, this isn’t the first social unrest to be recorded. It’s not the first time many nations haven’t suffered at the hands of inept leadership and corrupt government. Certainly, evil is present to engage in at just about every turn. We seem to be unaffected until it rocks our personal agenda. Like you, I have pulled back to the safety here on our place. I haven’t written in a long time. I am not sure it’s really even safe in America to speak openly anymore. I have put it all in God’s hands.
You mentioned health issues, and that is where I am at these days too. Forrest’s fall last year, changed everything for us. My focus each day is to move forth being positive and remembering that every day may not be good, but there is good in every day. I love what you said about celebrating beauty and joy in life. It truly IS right in front of us, if only we open our eyes. Take care, Ardys. xoxo
I have just now read this since I kept setting it aside. A quick capture of the first few lines indicated what was to follow and it is a difficult read. Sadly, it is a sign of the times and it is on a global scale just as you say. One would have to have their head in the sand to deny this. Like you, I hope we begin to see a swing in the other direction. Hopefully by being in a more isolated place, your positive changes can happen more quickly than in the large populous areas. Moving is not always the right answer.
Thank you Lorraine. We are hopeful that with a smaller population those in power and position of making policy will be able to make some better decisions that lead to positive change. Things are up and down at the moment, as one would expect. But whenever I do my shopping now I try to have very positive exchanges with people and they seem so ready for it. It feels like in my own small way I am contributing to change for the better. xx