TWENTY-SIX years ago, at the age of 19, Bobby McLeod had the
dubious ability to consume a pint of beer in six seconds. Today,
Mr. McLeod, an Aborigine, is a nondrinker, and is also helping
other native Australians get "off the grog."
Instead of handing out jail sentences, judges are sending
Aborigines to McLeod's beach-side "self-healing" center, called
Doonooch. McLeod says all the Aborigines who have gone through his
treatment "properly" are now nondrinkers.
McLeod is part of a refreshing wind shift within the Aboriginal
community. Grass-roots movements now are springing up as Aborigines
become increasingly distressed by the violence and damage excessive
alcoholic consumption causes their communities. This revulsion has
resulted in women patrolling the streets at night to discourage
drinking, concerts designated as grog-free, Aboriginal sports days
and, in some cases, the shutting down of beer canteens.
These grass-roots efforts are likely to receive some financial
backing March 31, when the government is due to release its
response to a Royal Commission that looked into the deaths in
custody of 99 Aborigines. The commission singled out alcohol abuse
as an issue the government must address.
Tourists visiting Alice Springs look out at groups of Aborigines
drinking on the town's fringes. In February, drunken rioters in
Queensland caused $80,000 (Australian; US$61,160) worth of damage
and menaced police with spears and axes.
Anti-grog groups, inspired by the success of Canadian Indians at
Alkalai Lake in British Columbia, now say change is possible.
Residents used to call the community "Alcohol Lake." Both Native
Americans and Aborigines developed patterns of binge drinking in
groups, imbibing as long as they had money. Neither culture had
much experience with alcohol and did not receive the right to drink
until the 1960s.
About 15 years ago, Canadian Indians began returning to tribal
customs and developed 28-day Alcoholics Anonymous-type programs. A
key feature of their programs is the continuous training of
instructors to prevent burn-out.
The founder of a number of those programs, Eric Shirt, has been
hired by at least two Aboriginal groups as a consultant, and
several anti-grog activists have gone through Mr. Shirt's training
programs in Canada.
The movement coincides with some changes taking place in
governmental attitudes. In November 1991, Marshall Perron, chief
minister of Australia's Northern Territory, announced a major
crackdown on alcohol sales. Among the measures was a new tax, a
tightening of liquor license laws, and an education program. …