Submission Sessional Committee on the Use and Abuse of Alcohol by the Community 051 Pitjantjatjara Council Inc
Tabled Paper 271
Tabled Papers for 6th Assembly 1990 - 1994; Tabled Papers; ParliamentNT
Tabled by Eric Poole
Made available by the Legislative Assembly of the Northern Territory under Standing Order 240. Where copyright subsists with a third party it remains with the original owner and permission may be required to reuse the material.
Such a person is well aware that he would not otherwise behave in this way, and also that he will be able to speak his mind while not being held responsible for his words or actions afterwards. At Yalata, South Australia, Pitjantjatjara drinkers said that they drank alcohol in order to "get strong" enough to say what they really thought (both to each other and to white staff). A similar state of affairs exists in the Ngaanyatjarra community of Warburton. The rules that Aboriginal people break when they get drunk are not written down. Rather, they constitute shared understandings of social etiquette, in this case by Western Desert people. Some of these rules are more negotiable than others, and the closer the rules are to Aboriginal Law, the less negotiable they tend to be. Breaches of rules that are closely associated with traditional Law are much more likely to provoke repercussions - especially of a physical nature. Under the influence of alcohol, drinkers frequently flaunt these customs by swearing in ways that profane Aboriginal religious Law. This can create particular anxiety for women, who may be held responsible for overhearing things which are strictly the business of men. The traditional penalty for such blasphemy or sacrilege was severe: a fatal spearing. Because Australian law prohibits such action, people are reduced to "growling" or giving "hidings". At all events, blows are frequently exchanged. When intoxicated women use forbidden words, the punishment meted out, especially if done by an intoxicated man, can cause serious bodily injury and, sometimes, death. "Settlement" life and the difficulties of social control of alcohol use A significant feature of Aboriginal life in much of the Western Desert prior to the establishment of large settlement-based populations was that people lived in extremely small family groups, in camps spaced roughly at 30-kilometre intervals. An early observer in Western Australia noted that the people were only to be found in families of eight or nine people living together. 30
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