Page last updated at 09:10 GMT, Monday, 20 October 2008 10:10 UK

Aborigine petrol-sniffing 'rises'

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Aboriginal people sit beneath a tree in Alice Springs, the Northern Territory
Boredom, isolation and poverty may encourage substance abuse

Australian officials are reporting an increase in petrol-sniffing in Aboriginal communities controversially taken over by the government.

The government is managing dozens of troubled Northern Territory settlements in a move to curb child abuse and alcoholism.

But tribal leaders believe attempts to curb alcohol abuse could have fed a sharp rise in petrol sniffing.

The chemical fumes provide a cheap high and respite from crushing poverty.

Alcohol banned

The federal government's decision to send troops and medical teams to Aboriginal communities in Australia's Northern Territory in 2006 was an emergency response to rampant alcoholism and child abuse.


Alcohol was prohibited under the multi-billion-dollar rescue plan but as the flow of beer, wine and spirits dried up, some tribal elders have reported an increase in petrol-sniffing.

Aboriginal children as young as five have developed an addiction.

The abuse of petrol can cause brain damage, depression and high blood pressure as well as heart disease and miscarriages.

Some indigenous communities have tried drastic measures to eradicate this scourge by sending addicts to harsh outback camps far away from temptation.

The introduction of a specially designed unleaded fuel has also helped. It has been stripped of the odours that sniffers find so appealing.

Wet season

But serious problems remain and the situation in some areas is likely to get worse in the coming months.

Aboriginal leaders have said that petrol-sniffing invariably escalates during tropical Australia's wet season.

Many settlements will be closed off by high rivers and impassable roads, and isolation and boredom will often conspire to fuel a rise in this type of substance abuse.

Alcohol banned in Aborigine areas
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05 Sep 08 |  Country profiles

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