DENGKARNIN DA MUNTAK: Thinking of the Old Days
I was born in 1955 in the old corrugated steel hospital. I have 4 sisters and 5 brothers whom all live at Port Keats. I am married with 4 children and 2 grandchildren.
Using Culture "Wrong Way" What I mean by this is that Grog comes 1st. and Culture comes 2nd, not the other way
around as I feel it should be. "Like the Old Way".
Like how I grew up in the 60's when the Culture was very strong. In Wadeye there are 3 camps:
1. Top camp mob were Marringarr and their Traditional dance were Lirrga.
2. Bottom camp was Thungurall and their Traditional dance was Wonga.
3. Creek camp were Murrinpatha tribe and their Traditional dance was Tchanba
And every night up at the dormitory we would hear clapsticks and didjeridoos going on and there would be dancing, singing, sharing the happiness of what was happening. Each group would invite whoever they prefer in there own areas and each night it wouldgo on like that all night. That was in the 60's and maybe a little bit in the 70's and from then on the grog was introduced to Port Keats. The Council with the help of Br Andy Howly was approached for a license to open a club. The club was the old canteen. We never heard NO singing and dancing after that.
As a young man about 15 or 16 yrs of age I watched the missionaries drinking on their verandahs and the priests drinking wine in the church. I was curious, wandering what it would be like to try a drink of beer or wine. Some of us boys used to go around stealing the altar wine from the presbytery to just get a taste of what it was like. We would throw most of it away because it didn't taste like what we thought. We thought it would taste like soft drink.
And in the 70's that was when the beer was introduced, by then I was nearly ready to leave school and I just couldn't wait to join in with the crowds. After I had swallowed
some beer and the effect it bought on me, never went away. I liked that feeling, it sought of never went away from my head that thought.
We asked the Council if we were allowed to drink and they didn't agree because we were still too young, and they use to argue with us young single men and we use to tell the Council we are not schoolboys anymore we are hard working men so we are entitled to have beer after work.
After a few months of arguing with the Council they gave in and decided to give us 2 cans of beer and 2 cans of soft drink. That's where it all began and as I grew older I was
drinking the same amount of beer as the older man was drinking ( which was 4 full cans.)
When I started to drink I didn't get straight into getting drunk I used to be afraid of what grog might do to me. How it would affect me. Well, there were people who I used to see getting drunk, fighting and carrying on swearing. I just didn't want to be like them. I just did not want the grog to affect me that way. So I always knew when to stop.
When I started to feel funny that's when I used to say to myself that's it that's enough for me. I'd go home and have a good feed and then go off playing with the other boys
around the camp.
But when I grew older about 19/20yrs of age I started drinking a bit more heavier and I loved drinking and from then on I started to go down hill. Meaning that I started to have these problems, arguing with my father and brothers and fights and when I grew even older about 30yrs of age I was really out of control and I couldn't control my drinking
properly by then I was going to courts and paying fines.
I'd go into Darwin when I won money from gambling and I would book a seat to go in. I would stay there for a month.
I'd only go into Darwin for one reason to get drunk. In Port Keats there is a 4 can limit. Up in Darwin I could drink all I like, what I like wine, spirits. No Aboriginal people were allowed to drink down in the camps. Non- Aboriginal people
had permits, which allowed them to drink in the club and at home. It didn't bother me but it bothered other people. They asked, "Why were the Non-Aboriginal people allowed to do this". There was a lot of resentment with all the people in the community because it was different for one and not the other.
Opened from 5.00pm - 7.00pm Monday to Saturday. NO DRINKING ON SUNDAY.
Several times the club closed:
1st time club closed was because there was too much Domestic Violence. I was sober then and so was my father.
2nd was after the Footy grand final and there was a fight after the club closed.
3rd time was because there was too much fighting in the Community after the club closed.
That's when the Liquor Commissioner warned the Community that if the club got smashed up again there would be no more club at Port Keats.
The women injured by their husbands used to come around our camp and ask us for help and my father and I used to go up to the Council office and ask for a meeting to discuss
1. Why were people given extra cans,
2. And why were the people getting drunk and coming home beating up their wives.
Nothing was done by the Council. We tried 7 or 8 times times we asked the Council to get the liquor Commission to come in and talk with us but they wouldn't still listen.
It made us feel angry every night different women used to come to us to help them. My father painted his face the old way – the message he was giving was "I mean business and you will listen" and he walked to the club with his woomera, boomerangand his spear. 4 policemen were there. My father told them this is not your fight this is ours don't interfere. The Club Manager (who was Non-Aboriginal) was told to leave. We broke into the Club with the women and children behind us. My father stood in the doorway watching. The big TV was broken, the billiard table was broken, cans was smashed.
From the week when this happened there was no fights in the community there was nothing. All the people that drank just went into the club and just grabbed as many
cartons as they wanted. Thousands of dollars damaged was done. Several years later after my father died was when we went to court and we got out as FREE PEOPLE. No-one went to jail. That's how long it took after the trouble for
everything to be sorted out.
I have been sober now for 14 years. When I got sober it was hard. One day I was barred out from the club because I hit my Auntie on the head with a stick. I wasn't allowed to drink at the club for 3 months. I was also kicked out from the Creek Camp to the Bottom Camp where I stayed with Raymond who was a sober person along with the Head of the Ninnal Family (because the old fella has now passed on only recently his name cannot be said).
For 3 months I hung around with these 2 fellas who were talking about their Culture, their Dreamings, their Totems which they forgot when they were drinkers. And the one thing that really hit me in the guts, was when they mentioned about how we forget the Christmas presents for the children, it sort of reminded me of what had happened to me. It reminded me of my last Christmas when my son was only a little boy and I didn't buy him a Christmas present. He wanted to play with the other kids toys but they told him to go away and leave the toys alone and they kept pushing him away from the toys. The feeling at that moment was really, really sad not for me but for my boy. And I didn't do nothing. I just got up and walked into the shower and turned the tap on and had a wash.
It wasn't because I was hot or dirty, it was only to mix some water with my tears. I cried. That was how much I felt hurt. That was my turning point. I stayed with these 2 people listening to their stories and after the 3 months was over I was allowed to go back to the club again I said no, I said no, I said no. I was so interested in the story about the program they were doing, the AA program that I stayed
with them for 6 months before they sent me to Perth the 1st time to a place called Holyoake. It opened my eyes. I could understand what the program was all about and
while I was over there they made us set goals for when we returned, what we were going to do and my answer was to go back to help my own people get sober.
Over the years it has been a long hard struggle but I feel my journey is nearing completion of my personal goal. My Higher Power has provided me with people who have played an important role in my life by guiding, directing and nurturing me along the
Story from Indigenous Sobriety