Wednesday, March 28, 2007

"Petrol Sniffing Scourge Over": Can it really be?

I'm catching up with some reading and found this article in
The Australian
from March 17:
Petrol sniffing scourge defeated
The Australian, by Ashleigh Wilson

THE petrol sniffing crisis in central Australia is over.

After years of government inaction, dozens of inquiries and reports, and hundreds of young lives crippled by the debilitating habit, Aboriginal leaders, social workers and police told The Weekend Australian that the problem finally appeared to be beaten.

A cautious optimism is now spreading throughout the region, with only about 20 people believed to be sniffing in central Australia north of the Northern Territory border - down from about 600 just 18 months ago. ...The dramatic development has largely been credited to non-sniffable Opal fuel, now rolled out across central Australia, and strong community leadership.

..."The crisis has passed," says Blair McFarland, a social worker with close knowledge of petrol sniffing trends in remote communities in the Northern Territory.
If this is true, it is a cause for great thanksgiving. Back in 1996, I was called to be the head pastor of the community at Hermannsberg (West of Alice Springs). I didn't accept the call in the end, but I did go up to have a look around. I had been there in the early 70's as a kid, but hadn't been back since the Missions were taken over by the Government.

The only way I could describe what I saw was that in the intervening 25 years Hermannsberg had "gone to Hell in a Handbasket". Whether it can be called a cause or a symptom, one of the most devasting was the prevalence of petrol sniffing among the young people. The women of the town used to do "night patrols" of the dry river beds to find the kids sniffing and bring them back in. I was shown a number of recent graves where young men had been buried, having died from this practice.

So I rejoice that a solution has been found, and I pray that it is a lasting one.

By the way, I almost accepted the call. I was single at the time and planned to embrace celibacy as a way of life. Put simply, I didn't because I didn't.

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