A tiny town in Western Australia is suffering the effects of the closure of its only pub, with local health workers reporting increased rates of alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour.
The LGA of Wiluna is 1,100 kilometres’ drive north-east of Perth, with a wider population of just 720 people (Census 2016), 69 per cent of them male.
The town is the service centre for the local indigenous people and a number of mines, including gold and uranium.
After years of financial problems, the town’s only pub – the Club Hotel – closed its doors mid-2017.
Staff at local community services reported to the ABC on the increase in problems Wiluna has experienced since the Hotel closed.
The absence of a safe public drinking premise has forced many in the community to regularly drive the 183 kilometres west to Meekatharra to purchase alcohol.
Richard Whittington, chief executive of the Ngangganawili Aboriginal Health Service, says locals could have a limited amount to drink at the pub and go home, bringing moderate drinking levels.
Now, cars returning from the next town deliver booze straight to homes, out of public sight.
Gail Allison, of the WA Aboriginal Advisory Council, says the town is “full of grog”, and the largely Aboriginal population face problems with health, unemployment and poverty.
Wiluna has a history with alcohol-related social problems, taking the step to impose restrictions a decade ago.
The local shire bought the Club Hotel after it closed, with plans to repurpose it as an administration office and function centre.
Shire CEO Colin Bastow believes closing the pub was the right decision, and told the ABC he was “not aware of any major negative effects”.
The town’s disposition should serve as a warning to regulators that believe reducing or removing access to alcohol (or drugs) is a viable alternative to addressing the underlying motivations of addictive behaviour.