In 2007 women from the valley’s four language groups came together at the Marninwarntikura Women’s Bush Meeting. They reflected on the women of the Valley’s struggles and fight against alcohol abuse over the last three decades. They spoke of the continued dangerous serving of alcohol to the valley’s vulnerable community, and of their increasing concerns for their family’s health and safety. They agreed to act and confront the valley’s burgeoning crisis before the government intervened. Alcohol was threatening to unravel and dissolve the intricately woven cultural and social fabric of the region. By 2007 there had been 13 suicides in 12 months.
The Fitzroy Crossing hospital was treating, on average, 30 – 40 alcohol related injuries a night. In one year there were 55 funerals. Chaos, violence and death were becoming normalised in every day Valley life.. The women confronted this crisis and took ownership of their history of trauma and current problems. Together they said:
“we are committed to the safety and wellbeing of our children. This commitment is expressed through our deep belief and value of who we are as Aboriginal women. Aboriginal people… We believe that our languages and culture and the role of our families is central to our future of safety and protection”
The women decided that the pathway to recovery must begin with the restriction of full strength alcohol. To rebuild their families and revitalise their cultural unity they had to break the cycle of violence inflicted on their communities from the excessive consumption of alcohol. They sought the support of community members, community organisations and their elders. On 19th July 2007 Marninwarntikura, with much community backing, wrote to the director of liquor licensing seeking an initial 12 month moratorium on the sale of take-away liquor across the Fitzroy valley. The Director of Liquor Licensing granted the request and put in place the following restriction:
The sale of packaged liquor, exceeding a concentration of ethanol in liquor of 2.7 per cent at 20 degrees Celsius, is prohibited to any person, other than a lodger (as defined in Section 3 of the Act).
After a 12 month period the restriction was put in place indefinitely, subject to review every 12 months.
The alcohol restrictions have given the community space to breathe and have respite and calm. The community can take this moment to gather their thoughts and feelings. This time of reflection is a necessity in order for the community to envision and reconstruct a safe, healthy and sustainable society for future generations. Independent evaluations by Notre Dame University has reported on the positive effects of the restrictions on community wellbeing.