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Cyclone 'silver lining': Floods stop grog, cannabis supply

Erin Parke, Tuesday April 3, 2018 - 06:31 EST
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Floodwaters cut the Great Northern Highway after a storm in January. - ABC

Bush communities in Western Australia's north say the string of cyclones has brought an unexpected benefit, with floodwaters cutting off the supply of alcohol and illicit drugs and making for a peaceful few months.

Three cyclones and a major tropical low have battered the Kimberley coast since Christmas, causing floodwaters to block the Great Northern Highway and turning bush access roads to mud.

Senior Sergeant Chris Fox, the officer in charge of Bidyadanga Police Station, said the flooding had been a blessing for residents trying to stay off the grog, as it had cut access to the bottle shops in Broome, 180 kilometres to the north.

"Although the weather events were a bit hectic when they first came through, they actually had a bit of a silver lining in that the ability of our community members to obtain alcohol and cannabis was restricted," he said.

"The flooding of the highway and the access road made it really difficult for people to bring stuff in, and that meant it was a lot quieter for us on the Friday and Saturday nights, when there's usually a lot of humbug and anti-social behaviour in regards to the consumption of alcohol or drugs."

At times Bidyadanga was totally cut off, with the Great Northern Highway blocked by fast-flowing floodwaters both to the north and south.

In recent weeks the floodwaters have receded, but the unsealed access road remains passable only by high-clearance four-wheel-drive vehicles, limiting the trips residents can make to the bottle shops and to cannabis dealers in larger towns like Broome and Port Hedland.

Senior Sergeant Fox said the wet season sobriety had allowed the community to refocus and organise more activities for children, including two well-attended discos.

"The kids are getting the benefits as well," he said.

"Some locals are telling us it has been good for them, because they're spending more money on food and things for the kids rather than just spending it on the drugs and alcohol."

Wet season deluge dries out community

Locals have reported a similar situation at the other side of the Kimberley at Kalumburu, which is nestled on the banks of the Kind Edward River at the northern tip of WA.

The residents face a 550km drive to the nearest bottle shop, but are cut off every wet season by storms that wash away sections of the Gibb and Kalumburu Roads.

Community chairman Clement Maraltadj said there was a noticeable difference in the early months of the year, when the wet season storms cut off road access.

"The road is impossible to come through … there's still a chance they can sneak it in by plane, but there's very little gunja [cannabis] and not much alcohol," he said.

"There's a lot more work done, and community members are quieter than they normally are when there is alcohol and drugs in the community."

Community going dry year-round

The community directors are trying to make the community 'dry' all year round and last month signed off on the most stringent alcohol restrictions allowed under WA law.

They applied to the Minister for Racing, Gaming and Liquor to have the township declared a restricted area under section 175 of the Liquor Control Act, which makes it a criminal offence to possess or obtain alcohol.

Mr Maraltadj said the police would be helping them to make sure everyone stuck to the rules, once the roads were reopened.

"It will hopefully stop outsiders from coming in here and bringing alcohol and selling it to our community, because when they sneak it in, it's really bad sometimes, it causes a lot of hassle in the community," he said.

"I'd like people to know that Kalumburu is a dry community and alcohol is not to come in."

Road repairs worth $30 million are underway in the wake of the cyclones and flooding, with almost all roads expected to be reopened ahead of the northern tourist season.


© ABC 2018

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