How a town near Alice was saved from petrol sniffing

Wed Jul 21, 2010 3:28am EDT
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By Amy Pyett

SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - When school liaison officer Andrew Stojanovski arrived at Yuendumu to find the remote Aboriginal community ravaged by petrol sniffing he had no idea this would turn into a story of hope for indigenous Australia.

Petrol sniffing had become an epidemic in the small Northern Territory community 300 kms northwest of Alice Springs with half of the teenage population sniffing petrol to chase a mind-numbing high then violently pursuing their next hit.

"The sniffer houses were the outback equivalent to the punk and hippy squats of cities," Stojanovski writes in his newly released book about Yuendumu called "Dog Ear Cafe."

"Music blared from the ghetto-blaster, people used drugs (petrol) and partied, mattresses were thrown on the floor. If you were a 'cool' teenager in Yuendumu, it was the place to be. This was where the action was."

But with students asleep on the classroom floor reeking of petrol or not turning up, Stojanovksi became determined to help

so joined forces with Aboriginal elders Peggy Napijimpa Brown and Johnny Hooker Creek to set up the Mount Theo program in 1994 that took youths out of communities into a bush retreat to clean up.

After eight years, Yuendumu was free of petrol sniffing and the community's fortunes turned around. Stojanovski, Brown and Creek were awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia.

Stojanovski said he hoped other Aboriginal communities could learn from the Mount Theo outstation program and be inspired by "Dog Ear Cafe" to step in to save their youth.   Continued...