Apartheid operates in Australia. It operates to this day.
Apartheid exists in remote Aboriginal communities in the form of liquor permits for residents.
Basically, if you’re white you get one, if you’re black you don’t.
A liquor permit is a piece of paper which allows the holder to consume alcohol inside the physical boundaries of the community. Permits are awarded by the local council, which is administered by the Aboriginal community in conjunction with the government. To my knowledge, the system still operates in 2018.
There are a few conditions governing the liquor permits. Holders may only consume alcohol in their own home, and only in the presence of other people who hold a liquor permit. If only one person at a social gathering does not have a liquor permit, no one can consume alcohol. For this reason, obtaining a liquor permit was one of the first things that I did once I arrived in the community of Yirrkala, in north-east Arnhem Land, in 2004; not because I was desperate for a beer, but because the other white fellas in the community, most of whom were my teaching colleagues at the local school, insisted I get my permit as soon as possible.
“If you don’t get one, none of us can drink when you’re with us,” they informed me.
I was promptly issued with a permit after visiting the office. It didn’t seem very difficult for me to get one.
I couldn’t help thinking, why was it so easy for me to get a permit? There was not enough time for the issuer to run a background check on me. Is it because I was a Teacher? Does that automatically make me a respectable citizen? Yes, Teachers are respectable citizens, but I certainly wouldn’t have been the first Teacher with a drinking problem, especially in a remote community – it’s a tough job.
The only conclusion I could make is that it was because I’m white.
In my mind, that equates to apartheid.
So, should Aboriginal people be given liquor permits as well?
Alcohol is destroying Aboriginal communities and a lot of the good work that is being done, including at the schools, is rendered redundant through the destructive power of alcohol. To solve the massive problems in Aboriginal communities, it’s imperative get rid of the alcohol – as a starting point.
Of course, the permit system didn’t stop Aboriginal people from abusing alcohol. Groups of men would gather at the town limit and drink to excess, in plain sight of anyone driving in or out of the community. They would then stroll back into the community and cause problems. There were also many venues in the nearby mining town of Nhulunbuy which served alcohol.
The white fellas would also abuse alcohol, so it was not as if all of them were worthy of the permit. There also seemed to be a reluctance among some white fellas to leave behind some of the comforts of their urban upbringing, such as Friday night drinks, when they chose to move to the remote community, despite the fact that they saw the damage alcohol was doing on a daily basis.
Apartheid is not new to Australia. The liquor permit is one of the last vestiges of this discriminatory colonial practice.
Pubs throughout the country once posted the ubiquitous signs, ‘No blacks, no dogs”. Many cinemas reserved the best seats for whites and the worst seats for Aboriginal people, and of course Australian history since 1788 is full of occurrences such as The Stolen Generation, blackbirding and genocide which saw Aboriginal people stolen, enslaved or murdered.
Apartheid occurred, it just wasn’t given a name. As a white South-African once told me, one mistake the authorities in South Africa made was assigning the word Apartheid to their system of racial discrimination. This opened up the Afrikaans to criticism from authorities throughout the world, many of whom, including the British, imposed exactly the same discriminatory practices on indigenous populations, but escaped the criticism because they didn’t label their practices.
Why is this not commonly known?
Because, like so many incidents and stories involving Aboriginal people since 1788, they are simply ignored or covered up because many Australians are too uncomfortable, too patriotic or too ignorant to talk about them.