Gulpilil angry at plan to jail drunks

By Lindsay Murdoch
The Age - June 18, 2005

"Why pick on us?" asked David Gulpilil, pictured at One Mile Dam. He was forced to move on from his camp outside Darwin's courthouse.
Photo: Wayne Taylor

David Gulpilil didn't plan to become embroiled in today's Northern Territory election. "I never even knew it was on till I read the newspapers," said the 51-year-old Aboriginal actor, musician, artist and Territorian of the Year.

But when four police officers turned up at his camp at the back of Darwin's courthouse on Thursday and ordered him and his family to move on, he found himself defending the Top End's homeless itinerants called "long-grassers". "Why pick on us?" Mr Gulpilil asked. "Why not help the long-grassers? It's no use just putting homeless people in jail. They will just get out and cause the same problems."

Mr Gulpilil, one of Australia's most recognisable Aboriginal faces after starring in a dozen movies, criticised a promise by Labor Chief Minister Clare Martin to crack down on habitual drunks, many of whom are homeless people living rough.

Sitting beside a smouldering fire at One Mile Dam, a refuge for Darwin's Aboriginal drunks, Mr Gulpilil said the party that wins today needs to come up with long-term policies to help itinerants find permanent housing. "I know myself how hard it is when you don't have somewhere to live," he said. "I'm still looking around for renting a house or flat. I don't get the dole. I need to sell the paintings and need a place where I can lay them out properly."

Ms Martin told journalists at the end of an 18-day campaign yesterday that her promise to clean up Darwin's itinerant problem by jailing drunks who refuse treatment was not aimed at homeless people like Mr Gulpilil. "The problem is with antisocial behaviour and I make no apology for continuing to tackle antisocial behaviour and the damage it does to our community," said Ms Martin, who is widely tipped to be re-elected for a second four-year term.

Both Ms Martin's Labor Party and the main opposition, the Country Liberal Party, have attempted to woo voters by being tough on street crime - drunken fights, begging and urinating in public.

Labor's hopes of retaining power depend on it polling strongly in Darwin's northern suburbs, where it took seven seats from the CLP in a surprise victory in 2001.

Ms Martin's pledge to jail chronic drunks has dominated a largely lacklustre campaign, sparking outrage from Aboriginal and legal groups who branded it racist.