10 May 2023

Lockhart River Social Club opening a boost for the community

| Samuel Davis
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COLD beer and refreshments can be savoured in Lockhart River again after the community’s new social club finally opened its doors to patrons.

Canteens in remote Indigenous communities across Cape York closed in 2008 after the state government decided Indigenous councils could no longer hold liquor licenses.

But Lockhart River mayor Wayne Butcher said while supply disappeared, demand remained high with “sly grog” running rampant for more than a decade.

“We’ve had a long battle with people selling alcohol in the community and our people binge drinking,” Cr Butcher said.

“This is a long-term social investment to counter that because prohibition has never worked.”

The club, which opened its doors on Friday night, operates under a Restricted Liquor Permit that aims to provide a safe space to socialise and drink responsibly.

“I reckon we got about 100 people through,” Cr Butcher said.

“That’s a good start and was easy for the staff to manage.

“Everyone was playing darts, pool and watching the footy on TV.

“It was a really good atmosphere. It’ll just keep on going from here on.”

In a community with high unemployment, Cr Butcher said the social club provided more than just a gathering place.

“It’s created eight new jobs for local people overnight,” he said.

“That caught a lot of people’s attention. It’s capacity building and creating more leadership within the community.”

“The kitchen will open in the next week and start serving hot meals, too,” Cr Butcher said.

The social club was meant to open in December with delays forcing residents to wait almost eight months before they could sit down and enjoy their first beverage.

But the best laid plans nearly went awry on opening night when a “technical issue” briefly stalled alcohol sales.

“The first beer was being served when the till broke down,” Cr Butcher said.

“Luckily we had three (cash registers) there, otherwise it would’ve been a worry.”

Last year, Lockhart River’s ministerial champion Mark Bailey said he supported the opening of the club and the return of alcohol to the community.

“We are here to listen to the needs of the community and I have strong faith in the mayor and the council to make this a successful transition,” he said.

All guests must be members and are breathalysed before entering the premises with limits on how much alcohol guests can consume in an evening.

Only mid-strength beer and pre-mixed drinks are served.

Lockhart River is now just one of three Aboriginal communities in Cape York to have licensed venues for on-premises consumption.

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