2. Elliott’s context
2.1 Location and status
The township and three camps that comprise Elliott have a population of 658 residents, 90 per cent of whom are Indigenous, according to Elliott Health Centre records. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Elliott District has a population of 417, 83 per cent of whom are Indigenous.
|0 – 5||= 73 people|
|6 – 15||= 110 people|
|16 – 25||= 138 people|
|26 – 59||= 286 people|
|60 – 80||= 51 people|
The location of Elliott halfway between Darwin and Alice Springs, presents both advantages and disadvantages to its residents. One resident described it as being in the ‘Bermuda triangle’ – where things disappear. Elliott has the features of both a town - with a number of services available and a town council – as well as those of a remote Aboriginal Community with a poor level of housing infrastructure, high unemployment rates, a transient white population of public servants, and difficulties attracting employees. It has lost services over the years due to fluctuating population figures and budget constraints. It had a TAFE at one time. One community member expressed the view that Elliott has gone backwards over the last 12 to 20 years. As stated in a letter from the Council to the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, “This Community is located in the centre of the Northern Territory, and because of its location, has particular issues that are little understood, even by NT Government personnel.”1
There are two takeaway alcohol outlets in Elliott: the Elliott Hotel and the United Elliott Roadhouse. The Elliott Hotel’s trading hours are daily 10am to 11pm except there is no trading on Good Friday or Christmas Day. Takeaway sales are permitted from 12 noon to 7pm Monday to Saturday with no takeaway on Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day. Takeaway is restricted to a six pack of beer per person per day. There are some ambiguities in the wording of the liquor licence with regard to the sale of other liquor.2 The United (formerly Mobil) Elliott Roadhouse is allowed to sell liquor from Monday to Saturday between the hours of 12:00 noon and 7pm. No trading can take place on Sunday, Good Friday or Christmas Day. Takeaway restrictions are stated as six pack takeaway limit per person per day. There is also ambiguous wording with regard to the sale of other liquor for consumption away from the premises.
2.2. Plans for community recovery
In the period leading up to the NTER, Elliott had been developing a ‘recovery plan’ that addressed both economic and social issues. The Elliott Recovery Plan, dated 12 September 2007,3 identified a number of needs and solutions. It began by stating: “The people of Elliott recognise the importance of caring for and supporting our children and young people. They are our future.” It pointed out the need for a locally based facility to train people for ‘real’ jobs in a range of businesses such as mining, tourism, general construction, agricultural and so forth. It highlighted the major housing and infrastructure problems that exist in Elliott. The Social Recovery Plan stated that the community supported linking Centrelink payments to school attendance and child welfare. They also supported the abolition of CDEP in favour of a move to real jobs, and asked for the ‘Remote Exemption’ designation of Elliott to be removed. The community supported the development of a council-managed food cooperative in view of the expensive, restricted and unhealthy food choices currently available through three existing outlets. It emphasised the excellent work done by health centre staff within a substandard health centre facility and the improvements in alcohol management over the previous 12 months. People were no longer drinking in public, breaking the Two Kilometre law and disturbing the peace. The Plan promoted hope for a better future.
2.3. The NTER
Unfortunately Elliott was not one of the communities initially included in the NTER, despite having made a submission about their situation to the NT Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse. The Elliott District Community Government Council wrote to Minister Mal Brough on 19 July 2007 requesting to be included in the process currently being undertaken in other remote communities as a recognised community, not as a ‘town camp’. On 28 August 2007, a Senior Advisor to the Minister wrote to the Council acknowledging that Elliott community had not been identified in the NTER legislation at that stage, and advising that both North and South Camps would be covered by the alcohol and pornography controls and welfare payment measures in line with the rest of the NT.
On 13 September, Major General Chalmers and other Taskforce Officials visited Elliott and the Town Camps for discussions with community members and the Council about Elliott’s issues and aspirations and request for inclusion in the NTER. It was expected that there would be real advantages to being part of the Intervention in terms of new housing and access to a wider range of food at cheaper prices through Outback Stores. Another meeting at Elliott on 11 October 2007 with Australian Government and NT Government officers focussed on land tenure, housing, a new health centre, counselling services for children and CDEP. An informant described this meeting as ‘very positive’, with commitments made to move ahead quickly on some of the initiatives.
2.4. Unintended consequences
Before community members could see any benefits of the NTER, they were subjected to alcohol and pornography restrictions, clearly sign-posted at the entrance to the two camps: North Camp, and South Camp. The implications of the town camps becoming Prescribed Areas under NTER were perhaps not fully appreciated at the time. North and South Camps were declared Prescribed Areas under the legislation on 15 September. A Government Business Manager (GBM) was placed in Elliott in late March 2008 as the Australian Government representative for the Elliott community.
Not only did the community express the view that their alcohol management strategy had been ignored and undermined, they found the wording on the signs to be offensive (NB these signs have now been replaced with new ones). The Council wrote to the Minister Macklin on 7 April 2008, outlining these issues and inviting her to visit “to see first hand the problems that have been identified, particularly as they relate to initial issues identified in the Children Are Sacred Report to which this Community provided a submission. Issues remain unchanged regarding housing, health and education.”
The categorisation of the two Town Camps as Prescribed Areas has brought about major unintended and unwanted consequences affecting where and how Aboriginal people in Elliott consume alcohol. In order to understand this impact more fully, we document below what amounts to a highly activist history in the town, of community controls over alcohol.
1. Letter to Minister Macklin from Bob Bagnall, President, Elliott District Community Government Council, 7 April 2008, page 1
2. The Deputy Director Licensing – Licensing & Regulation is aware of these ambiguities and how the ‘special conditions’ could be interpreted.
3. Photocopied document provided by Council Vice-President