Here is an article detailing what appears to be a complete social breakdown in a central Australian town.

Alice Springs is a township fast spiraling out of control. All the elements for turmoil are present: deep, cold fury among the mainstream population, a reckless gloom among the young bush people loitering here, vast demand for marijuana and a limitless supply, bad, reactive politics, a lack of new ideas, a need for drastic measures and a refusal even to debate the reforms that might have a chance.

This is home to many, yet as the article goes on, one is left wondering how people tolerate it. What causes a place to disintegrate? The factors are legion and often specific to that place. A long and ambiguous history of missteps with the Aboriginals is one important factor in this case.

Locals, unsurprisingly, have had enough. Some leave, some harden their hearts. Alice Springs used to be a subtle, fairly harmonious multiracial community. No longer. Race relations are worsening and fear is rising on both sides.

Commitment to a place is an important idea. But in the face of complete social breakdown, is there any place left to salvage? Would you stay?

H/T Rod Dreher

Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture
Local Culture


  1. Thanks for sharing that with us. I’ve long wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of Australia and their history, to compare and contrast with what has happened in the U.S. Unfortunately, I still don’t know much even after reading the article. What it makes me hungry to know is the life story of some of the individuals and families. But we don’t get any of that. The author hints at this lack when he speaks of government bureaucrats: “Their world-view, as conveyed in private talks, is managerial.” But he doesn’t have an alternative world-view to convey to us. Still, it was worth reading.

  2. By way of lighting a candle instead of cursing the darkness, I’ll point out an example of a discussion of social breakdown in another spot on the globe, one which DOES inform about life and family stories. It’s Piers Vitebsky’s book, “The reindeer people: living with animals and spirits in Siberia.” (2005)

    I see that although in my Russian movie blog I told how I got interested in it, I’ve never written any more about it. By the time I got to the end of the book, I was amazed at how two very different industrial societies, in the U.S. and the Soviet Union, had been so much alike in the way they intentionally and unintentionally tried to destroy the family and community life of indigenous peoples. And the low points in cultural self-appreciation of indigenous peoples were reached at about the same time (early 60s) in each of those two empires. Drinking one’s self to death is not an entirely unreasonable response, even though there has been a lot of cultural revival in both countries, too. Vitebsky doesn’t just write about society, though. He tells about individuals and families he got to know over the past 25 years, and what he got to know about their histories before that. Highly recommended to people who are interested in Place, Limits, and Liberty.

    (Now that I think about it, I realize I may already have commented on FPR about Vitebsky and his book. Oh, well. I’ll click on “Submit Comment” anyway.)

  3. “Would you leave?” is perhaps the wrong question. Should Alice Springs have become what it is in the first place? What is it there to justify that number of people living there? If there is value in place then there is value in understanding the limits of a place, and what is proper for that place. The same could be asked of, say, Phoenix.

  4. “Would you leave?” is not the wrong question to people who live there now. The wrong question is, “Should your ancestors have come here in the first place?”, because even if it’s answerable, the decision can’t be rescinded … except, in a way, by leaving now.

    The Alice Springs situation is a challenge to the way many of us Porcher types think about place and culture. I don’t think our commitment to place can be absolute. I have a friend, an immigrant from the former Soviet Union, a religious conservative who struggles with some of the excesses of contemporary American culture. But he told me recently he thanks God he can raise his children in this country, because the problems in his homeland are so overwhelming that he felt he had no real choice but to flee. I have another friend, an emigre from a Western European nation who misses her homeland a great deal, but who says that her faith is the most important thing to her, and that her children have a much greater chance of growing up with their religion intact in the US than back home.

    When sorting out whether to leave or to stay in Alice Springs, or any place, one has to identify what are the things one values most, and how likely will it be that remaining in that place will take those things away from one. Black folks who leave the inner cities for the suburbs are often criticized by activists for “abandoning” their own communities. I think this is unfair, as a general rule. Why should people who want to raise their children in a relatively safe, stable environment feel obliged to remain in neighborhoods that are increasingly unsafe, and where they (the parents) conclude that their children are seriously at risk of falling into bad behavior, or becoming the victims of violence, drug abuse, and so forth? Of course there are consequences to any community when stable families depart. But it cannot be right to expect a family to bear any burden for the sake of being faithful to its community. Can it?

    The brokenness of the Aboriginals is a much more complicated situation. A few years ago, I heard a lecture by the anthropologist Wade Davis (whose book “The Wayfinders” is a must-read) in which he discussed how ancient traditional cultures — American Indian, Aboriginal, etc. — are often completely shattered by the encounter with modern culture, typically European. As I recall, Davis explained that the root of this is that the encounter with modernity completely wiped out their cosmos, the mythic structure they believed explained how the world is. They learned it’s not true, or not necessarily true, and the shock of the new utterly demoralized them. Of course, we imperialists did our part by suppressing their culture, and expecting them to adapt easily to our ways, because to us, our ways are simply how the world is; we don’t understand that the things we stand for are expressions of choice, and not objective, inevitable forces. Anyway, it is tragic but interesting to contemplate how transplanting living cultures into the soil of modernity so often results in the culture and its people withering and dying. Why is that? I don’t think there is a material explanation for it, at least not one that is satisfactory.

  5. R. Dreher said “But it cannot be right to expect a family to bear any burden for the sake of being faithful to its community. Can it?” I agree, but without the willingness to bear some burden, there can be no community. That’s what relationship entails. Remember the “for better or worse”? The only question is really, where do we draw the line? In general I see FPR as a stand against the American notion that we should leave to greener pastures as soon as we can, let those who can’t deal with the burdens. Besides, it is only in carrying burdens that we grow spiritually, which is to say truly. The best thing you can do for your family is to ask them to bear some burdens. I do not claim to know where the line is, in Alice Springs or elsewhere, but I think we Americans tend to err on the side of not bearing enough. Thanks for bearing with me 😉

  6. “A few years ago, I heard a lecture by the anthropologist Wade Davis (whose book “The Wayfinders” is a must-read) in which he discussed how ancient traditional cultures — American Indian, Aboriginal, etc. — are often completely shattered by the encounter with modern culture, typically European.”

    Thanks for that recommendation. The book is on its way to me.

    We should keep in mind, btw, that our western Religions, including Christianity, have their roots in a culture that has much in common with those of indigenous peoples as they existed before they came in contact with a modern culture that grew out of those western religions.

  7. Uluru still blazes in the sunrise and set but the original people and their Dreamtime are not cooperating. If only the Wogs would be better behaved. Give em a little whiskey and a whiff of the fleeting charms of modernity and look at em, they take the whiskey, ungrateful wankers.

    There is something about desert outposts that lend themselves to permanent dysfunction. Take a trip to Gallup New Mexico or perhaps the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota and you can enjoy the dystopic fruits of the last remnants of a native culture attempting to survive in a world overrun by sensitive tourists bearing gifts in exchange for satisfying their expectations of myth.

    Living lightly on a harsh land is a kind of luxury lost on the visiting crowds. It is, of course, a kind of stark bounty lost on the entire culture of a noisome West.

    Uluru hears too much footfall, the rock blazes in the sunlight but the story it tells aint heard by the tourists because they stop at “pretty” and then tut tut the local fallen.

    The natives drink and smoke because the land has gone mute because their ears are filled only with the unremitting noise of an interloper who thinks the land is only a commodity. People are frequently victims by choice but somehow, I can understand the surrender of the ancient men and woman of the Outback to the grinding abuses of the era they inhabit. It is perhaps like a Frenchman who might wake up one day to find a crowd of aliens pissing on the scuppers of Notre Dame while hang-gliding off its tallest spire, utterly oblivious to the sacred ground upon which they tread.

  8. “I don’t think our commitment to place can be absolute.”

    Allen Tate quotes Milton, “Wherever we do well is home,” then goes on to remark that “wherever we are allowed best to realize our natures…is the proper place to live.” I was raised in a small town situated not too far outside of a big city. I’m not an urban guy — I lived in the city for about five years and didn’t much like it — and would not “do well” there. The suburbs aren’t much better, imo.

    It seems that we wouldn’t go amiss by finding a place where we can best “realize our natures,” and then plant ourselves there, so to speak. In some cases it may very well be the place where we were raised, or perhaps somewhere not far from it.

    Of course, I don’t think that either Milton or Tate was advocating “shopping” for a place, like one would shop for a car, in the sense of trying to find one that’s perfect for you. I think most of us who are attuned to these things can tell when we’re in a given place whether it resonates with us or not. We’ve all had the experience of visiting a place and saying to ourselves either, “Man, I’d love to live here!” or “Never in a million years!”

    I still carry a good deal of affection for the small town where I grew up even though the town itself has changed a lot. It has morphed into more of a bedroom community for the city as opposed to the mostly self-contained community it used to be. Still, I have little doubt that if circumstances prompted me to move back there, I would, and I don’t doubt that I’d “do well” there.

Comments are closed.