I Thought I Was Different
My name is Bill and I’m an alcoholic. I was born in 1928 in a little place in New South Wales called Gulargambone. We had, like all Aboriginal families, become fringe-dwellers in the town.
At the age of 14 I left home with my uncle and “jumped” a train to Coonamble where I got a job working on a property in the Pilliga scrub. I stayed there for ten years cutting burrs, ringbarking, mustering – all the things that go with running a property. I was part of the homestead and grew up with the family.
At that stage I was being paid one pound a week and keep – decent wages for the time. As well, I’d go shooting and trapping to earn extra money so I was doing fairly well and could go into hotels. In the late 1930’s Aboriginal people were allowed into the hotels. In the late 1950’s though, I had to apply for a “dog ticket” (a certificate under the Aborigines Protection Act) which allowed me to move about and enter hotels.
When I was 24 I left Coonamble as I wanted to see the world they were all talking about, so I went shearing. Now I was really able to drink. In the shearing sheds drink was popular. I could get drunk at night then line up the next morning for a full day’s work. At first it was alright – I could manage it – I was fit.
But not long after that time, the fun started to go out of everything. I stopped enjoying my work and was looking for excuses not to go – I needed a drink.
In the mid 1950’s I got married. I was drinking quite a lot then. I remember they had to hold my hand before I could sign my name in the registry book. I was drunk on my wedding night. The marriage busted up after a few years.
When people told me I drank too much I wouldn’t listen. I’d go the other way and brawl with them. I know I lost some good friends over alcohol. I just wouldn’t be told. I got to the stage where I would steal or lie for grog. In the end I used kids to get metho for me – I would shake so much I couldn’t go into the shops to buy it myself.
I was walking the back streets and living in rubbish dumps. I started to have fits, and at first the police picked me up. However, I got to the stage where they would no longer pick me up. They were afraid I might die on them.
Until then I hadn’t been able to admit booze was my problem. I didn’t want to admit it – it meant I would be giving in to all those bloody people who kept on my back about giving up the grog. I remember one time when a seizure struck me. I was lucky because at the time I happened to be at my mum’s place. She called an ambulance and it took me to hospital. That’s where I fought the biggest battle of my life. Again, I was lucky because I had a good doctor who understood what I was going through. I begged him to get me away somewhere where I couldn’t get at the booze.
He introduced me to Alcoholics anonymous.
I am still an active member and I have been for more than twenty years. I have never needed a drink in all that time. Yet, I was one of those people who thought they couldn’t live without alcohol.
After I left hospital I was an invalid pensioner for a time. Then I moved to West Wyalong to get away from my old drinking mates and got a job with the Shire. This was in 1968 and I have never needed the pension since.
After the job on the Shire, I went back to shearing, having been away from it for six years. I sheared ninety sheep first up and I’ve never looked back. Shearing was a good life. We travelled all over. Sometimes we ended up in Victoria, so we’d go to Melbourne and knock around with the Fitzroy blackfellas. On a previous trip to Melbourne, before I’d given up the booze, I ended up in a park in Fitzroy like any old drunk – no money, nowhere to go and not knowing where I was.
Some people say that the A.A. program might not be good for Aborigines because it brings them shame having to admit to their problem at an A.A. meeting. Well, I don’t know what’s more shameful – admitting the problem or making a complete fool of yourself in public when you’re drunk. The A.A. program does work for Aboriginal people – it’s worked for me.
Aborigines are a caring, sharing and spiritual people . The A.A. is a spiritual program and not religious or Christian as such, but does work on the needs the spirit has.
The A.A. program is a good one and perhaps, for now, the best thing is for Aboriginal people to run their own A.A. meetings as some Native Americans do. However, that is up to God as I understand Him.
Finally, I believe that the A.A. program is for all people because it is the only program that combines the spiritual, physical and the mental, and understands that the disease of alcoholism involves all of these things.