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Newslines Radio: Younger generation says NO to grog and drugs


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Nathan Ramsay

Erin Stanley, drug and alcohol trainee, NSW
Harold French, Roy Thorn Drug and Alcohol Misuse Centre, NSW
Wendy Sammons, Youth Empowered Towards Independence, QLD
Will MacGregor, Bush Mob, NT
Angus MacGregor, Bush Mob, NT

12 Sep 2012

PRESENTER: Hi, I’m Nathan Ramsay and you’re listening to Newslines Radio, a weekly program produced by the Australian Government on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.

Drug and alcohol abuse is a serious issue for our young people, and many people have dedicated their lives to keeping our kids away from the harm that drugs and grog can bring.

It was a hot topic at the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Conference held in Fremantle earlier this year, when drug and alcohol workers from all over the country gathered to share their experiences.

The conference looked at how to help our young people find the strength to rise above drug and alcohol abuse and plenty of different ideas were discussed.

One thing everyone agreed on was the need to instil confidence in our youth by reconnecting them with their culture.

Erin Stanley is a young Wirradjuri woman studying to be a drug and alcohol worker and is in her final year at university. While there are many things that cause someone to start abusing alcohol, drugs or petrol, Erin says boredom is often top of the list.

STANLEY: Especially in small towns and if you’re rural or remote it’s going to be even more so, tenfold, a hundred fold. Peer pressure’s another big one. And sometimes it’s seen as normal. So if they’ve grown up around it and they’ve seen it all their lives then they’re going to think this is the only way.

PRESENTER: Erin says growing up around drugs and alcohol abuse can mean it becomes normal and is seen as something that all blackfellas do.

STANLEY: I don’t really drink. I drink probably once a year on special occasions and my friends say to me “Oh Erin you’re a big coconut, look at ya” and it’s like, no I don’t need to have alcohol to have a good time, and I think it’s more so because I work in drug and alcohol that I don’t really drink that much anymore.

But I can still go out with my friends and have a good night. We can go out to a club or party and I’ll be the deso. I said I don’t have to drink to have a good time, I’m hypo enough.

Some people do use that excuse, “it’s a social lubricant and it gives me a bit of confidence” but if you’ve already got that and if we try and instil that back into our people then you don’t need it. That self-esteem is going to be through the roof, that self-confidence is going to be up there and you don’t need alcohol.

I have that self-confidence and that’s been through culture, reconnecting with my mob and the connection to my country as well.

PRESENTER: Erin’s connection to her culture has helped her to become a strong young woman and as a drug and alcohol worker she is hoping to help others reconnect with their culture too. But she’s already discovered that when it comes to spreading the word about drugs and alcohol, it needs to be done carefully.

STANLEY: It’s just about that subtlety. It’s sitting down … it might be playing a game of footy with them. I played a game of footy with some clients of mine and it was just gaining that trust and once you have that trust, especially with Aboriginal people, that’s a really big foot in the door.

But it takes a long time to build that, especially with some of the communities I work with. To build that rapport could take six months, it’s gaining that trust. I’d say just the subtlety, trying to do it on the down low. So it’s not “I’m a drug and alcohol counsellor, let’s have a chat about your drug problem”. It’s just like sitting down painting with them or having a game of footy and then talking about the harm minimisation, cause that’s the model I work under.

It’s not so much “ok you can never have a drink in your life” but “here’s some strategies that we can use to minimise the harm in using alcohol or other drugs”.  So that’s pretty much the way I work.

PRESENTER: Gumaroi man Harold French is a high school teacher and a program officer for the Roy Thorn Drug and Alcohol Misuse Centre in Moree in northern New South Wales.

He discovered the best way to spread the message about responsible drinking was to let the young people come up with the message themselves.

He worked on a program called Deadly Shots, where young people were given disposable cameras and told to photograph what drugs and alcohol represented to them.

FRENCH: We take a lot for granted with kids and nine times out of ten we don’t listen to them. We seem to forget that they’re the ones out there living that, experiencing that and we just take it for granted that we know all the answers.

When we started asking them questions to identify what the photographs were about, like the one with the car, the smashed burnt-out car, what did that represent? And when they started talking they started talking about their brothers, their sisters, their cousins, their friends, being in an accident, stoned out of their heads or blind drunk, rolled or smashed the car and that sort of stuff.

It was a sobering experience for everyone. And we didn’t think kids thought like that. That was one of the best parts about it. It was us looking through the lens of kids, from their perspective. It was a great experience, not just for us but for the kids as well.

PRESENTER: The photographs that the kids took have now been used in a kit which is being sent out to schools and youth groups to help get other young people thinking about the consequences of drug and alcohol abuse.

FRENCH: As a classroom teacher I found it very useful. Prior to using those we had other flashcards that we used for fun and games and these ones were more sober. They made the kids think a lot more about, “do I want to end up like this? Do I want my brother, my mum and dad, my uncle, my aunty to end up like this?”

A lot of the questions were answered with a big no, not questions marks, it was a big no. “We don’t want that. We want to grow up healthy. We want a lifestyle that we deserve and not growing up without any regrets”.

The stuff that came out of those kids was really amazing. From a teaching perspective, you never expect that from your students. You think, “What am I doing here? Why am I teaching them this? They get nothing out of it.” But the minute you involve them in something and let them take ownership of the program, they give 110 per cent, and that’s what happened in this program. They owned it. They gave us 110 per cent.


PRESENTER: You’re listening to Newslines Radio. Today, we’re talking about how our young people are rejecting alcohol and drug abuse and are gaining the self-confidence to rise above peer pressure and lead strong and healthy lives.

As well as having self-confidence, having strong culture seems to be another big factor in young people overcoming alcohol and substance abuse.

Here’s drug and alcohol trainee Erin Stanley who we heard from earlier.

STANLEY: I reckon culture is the big thing, it’s the be all and end all really. I reckon that’s one of the essential, that and education, is one of the essential ingredients in the road to recovery I guess.

We just got to instil that confidence and that creativity and that self-esteem back into our people, not just our young girls but into our people. [Be]cause I think at the end of the day that’s been missing for a long time and we get that back there’s no stopping us really. That connection with culture, we really need it, it’s vital.

PRESENTER: Gunggandji woman Wendy Sammons is a case manager at the Youth Empowered Towards Independence community organisation in Cairns, which is also called YETI. She says culture always plays an important role in her work and that YETI prides itself on providing a culturally safe environment for its clients.

SAMMONS: It’s about respecting where they come from. We’re all from different areas and for us from Yarrabah to deal with someone from the Cape, it’s sort of understanding that we’re not all from the same area and we are different cultures. Just respecting that and just trying to understand where they’re coming from instead of putting on to them your values and your views sort of thing.

PRESENTER: Wendy says she’s seen what a difference it can make to a young person who has lost their way with drugs and alcohol to be reconnected with their traditional culture.

SAMMONS: I’ve taken a client back to country for rehabilitation because of her chronic sniffing and it was a big achievement. She stayed out there for about two weeks. For that, they might see that as, “oh she’s a failure” but that’s one step to her achievement and giving up.

PRESENTER: Will MacGregor is the founder of Alice Springs-based organisation Bush Mob. The organisation helps young people in Central Australia reconnect with their culture to help them overcome alcohol and substance abuse problems.

Bush mob song

That’s some of the young people singing on one of Bush Mob’s five day horse and culture treks, which Will MacGregor says provide participants with a chance to begin their healing journey, while at the same time having fun.

MACGREGOR: What we’re working toward is the community being able to set up its own process around horse culture treks so that people can come from anywhere and experience this sort of cultural healing space.

PRESENTER: Will’s son Angus helped make a video documentary of a horse and culture trek last year, which was held at the Santa Teresa community, about 110kms south east of Alice Springs.

Here’s Angus talking with some of the mentors and Indigenous stockmen who guided the youth during the trip.

MACGREGOR: Do you think it’s the experience with the horses which makes people happier and changes people or do you think it’s the land, or both?


VOX POP 1: The way I feel about the horse trek is, this is a holistic experience. I think that what we’re sort of building here or built here is a little community and it’s a community without alcohol and other drugs. Most of our youth are not growing up in that environment, in other words they’re growing up and it’s in their face, so I think it’s very important that they get this experience.

VOX POP 2: It’s good to get the young fellas away from town, to come out here and enjoy the horse riding and listen to the traditional owners and the elders, talking to the young fellas.

VOX POP 3: See them enjoying themselves, making them really happy and really proud.

VOX POP 4: With a lot of the stuff that happens in Central Australia and Alice Springs, the negatives of young people, I think this is a big positive, not only for Santa Teresa but all other communities around. If this can continue to grow and grow, who knows where this could go.

PRESENTER: That was the Bush Mob horse and culture trek there.

It’s great to hear about the work being done to help young people avoid or overcome drug and alcohol problems, and how young people themselves are taking ownership of the projects that assist in their recovery.

The Australian Government is working with communities to improve health and safety in communities as part of Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage. To find out more about what’s been done to reduce drug and alcohol abuse in our communities, check out the links on our website And don’t forget to visit us on Facebook.

I’m Nathan Ramsay, thanks for listening to Newslines Radio. Stay deadly!

Find out more

The Australian Government has established alcohol and drug information services in each state and territory, which people can contact for more information or advice about youth drug and alcohol abuse.

Other Australian Government drug and alcohol programs include:

Tackling alcohol abuse is also a major component of the Australian Government’s Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory legislation.

The National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee is dedicated to representing Aboriginal people in alcohol and other drug policy in order to  reduce alcohol and other drug problems and associated harms in Indigenous communities nationally.

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