CDP-2010-37-3-06-D’ABBS, Controlling “Rivers of Grog”: The Challenge of Alcohol Problems in Australian Indigenous Communities


In 2007, a report into the sexual abuse of children in Aboriginal
communities in the Northern Territory, Australia, led to allegations
that “rivers of grog [alcohol]” were destroying these communities.
It also precipitated a dramatic shift in Aboriginal policy by the
Australian government, in which principles of self-determination
were discarded in favor of top-down measures designed to restrict
Aboriginal access to alcohol. While not disputing the gravity of
current levels of alcohol-related harm in some Indigenous settings,
this article challenges the assumption that “rivers of grog” have
swept away all capacities for local control, and argues that a more
theoretically and empirically informed analysis of the nature,
determinants, and outcomes of social control provides a basis for a
more viable policy than the current so-called emergency response.
The article traces the evolution of policies affecting Indigenous
alcohol use, and of concerns expressed by both Indigenous and
non-Indigenous commentators about problems in controlling
drinking at a local level. It then examines sociological perspectives
on social control. The article concludes by reviewing initiatives by
Aboriginal organizations aimed at developing more effective local
controls over alcohol.

Alcohol use, Indigenous communities, social control, alcohol policy, Australia

PETER D’ABBS is Professor of Substance Misuse Studies at the Menzies School
of Health Research, Darwin, Australia. He is a sociologist with a
research background in alcohol and other substance misuse policy
issues and in program evaluation. Recent projects include a review of
interventions into volatile substance misuse (co-authored with Sarah
MacLean) published as National Drug Strategy Monograph No. 65,
and an evaluation of the impact of rolling out Opal fuel as a prevention
measure in 20 remote Indigenous communities with a history of petrol
sniffing. More recently, d’Abbs has also conducted research on changes
in drinking cultures in China. He is a Director of the Alcohol
Education & Rehabilitation Foundation and, in 2007, was placed on
the Honour Roll of the Australian National Drug and Alcohol Awards.