Anti-drinks man ordered to leave town

By: Tony Koch

BEING partner to the local mayor's cousin wasn't enough to protect Daniel Bracegirdle when he challenged Aurukun Shire Council over calls to reopen its notorious beer canteen: after spending a decade in the remote north Queensland township, he was told to pack up and get out.
The expulsion order served on 40-year-old Mr Bracegirdle, a non-indigenous man who built a life and a successful video production business in Aurukun, has revived tensions that eased when the local licensed liquor outlet was shut down nine months ago.
Aurukun Mayor Neville Pootchemunka said yesterday the decision to expel Mr Bracegirdle was taken after he abused council chief executive John Bensch and embarrassed Mr Pootchemunka and others in front of invited guests at a public meeting last Friday.
``As a council, we have a duty of care to our officers, and this man walked through the crowd shouting `Bullshit' and accusing us of being liars,'' Mr Pootchemunka said.
``The council met after the incident and we acted under section 23 of the Local Government (Aboriginal Lands) Act to lawfully exclude him from the community for an initial six months. He lives with a woman who is a cousin of mine and theyhave adopted a child, but weare sick of being told by outsiders how we should run our community.
``He has not gone yet -- we are trying to work through this issue.''
Mr Bracegirdle said he objected to Mr Bensch giving the meeting details of a poll purporting to show there was overwhelming support for the reopening of the Three Rivers Tavern, which was closed by the Queensland government in November last year.
Mr Bracegirdle has lived in Aurukun for 10 years and operates Wik Media, a video-production business, cultural awareness and language interpretation service. His company, which employs up to five local people in busy times, has produced videos aimed at controlling domestic violence, as well as others on local historical events such as the recent handover of land to locals under native title.
``My partner is a local woman and we adopted a young girl here and she is class captain and top of her class at school,'' Mr Bracegirdle said.
``I contribute a lot to this community, but apparently my connection is not enough to allow me to speak up at a public meeting. I admit I did walk through the crowd and said inappropriate things, but it does not warrant being expelled and separated from my partner and our daughter.
``I am seeking legal advice. The whole point is that the majority of people here don't want the canteen to be reopened.
``You just have to study the statistics and live here to see howmuch better the community is since the canteen has been closed.''
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Desley Boyle said yesterday a combination of reforms had improved the lives of Aurukun residents over the past year, including the Family Responsibilities Commission, which assisted people having difficulties.
She said the most noticeable improvement had been in school attendance, with rates up by more than 10 per cent compared with a year ago. There had also been a huge reduction in crime and alcohol-related problems since the canteen was closed.
As well, Ms Boyle said 10 new houses had been or were being constructed, helping to alleviate the overcrowding that forces up to 15 people to live crammed into poorly maintained three-bedroom houses.
Crime and violence figures were down markedly, she said. In the March quarter, there had been 26 reported offences against the person, compared with 47 for the same period last year.
In the same period, five convictions were recorded for breaches of alcohol restrictions in the community compared with 32 last year. And in the March quarter, no child was the subject of a substantiated notification ofharm.
Community Services Minister Karen Struthers said domestic violence applications were down by almost 40 per cent to just nine in the period from January to March. On August 17 last year, nine children from Aurukun were in custody in the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville, compared with four there today.
In past years, up to 40 Aurukun youths have been in the centre at one time, serving sentences for crimes committed in the community.
The canteen was closed following a declaration by the Queensland government banning Aboriginal shire councils from operating liquor outlets.
The government has insisted the canteens be run by independent licensees, but in the case of Aurukun nobody has been found to operate the facility.
Alcohol sales in almost all Queensland indigenous communities are restricted to mid- and light-strength beer, with sales of wine and spirits banned. No takeaways are allowed.
Locals say Aurukun is now a much more pleasant place to live, with available income being spent on food and the necessities of life, instead of alcohol.
A health official said children were getting better, undisturbed sleeps at night because there was no disruption by people affected by liquor, and adults were turning up for work on a more regular basis because they were having undisturbed nights.