Benelong's Haven : an anthropological study of an Australian Aboriginal rehabilitation centre
This study examines the processes associated with indigenous recovery from alcohol and drug misuse within the context of an Aboriginal rehabilitation centre on the mid-north coast of New South Wales (NSW), Australia. Benelong's Haven is an Aboriginal owned and controlled non-government organisation that was established in 1974 by Dr. Val Carroll (Bryant), O.A.M. Many of the residents, who originate from NSW and other states in Australia, are referred to the centre through the justice system as an alternative to a gaol sentence. The treatment programme is based on Alcoholics Anonymous and psychotherapeutic meetings involving residents reconstructing shared stories about their past experiences with alcohol and drugs. Importantly, substance use is depicted as undertaken in groups, therefore recovery must come from within the group. This is combined with an emphasis on Aboriginal spirituality, where culture becomes a form of symbolic healing that is employed by residents to assert their independence from white Australian society and develop a renewed sober status. Group solidarity and compliance with the rules is emphasised over resistance to staff, despite oscillating periods of discipline and nurturance. One of the essential problems of the treatment process is whilst many residents perceive they have experienced transformation in the programme, upon returning to their home communities some find it difficult to maintain their new status, where substance use continues amongst friends and relatives and where their position as Aboriginal Australians is stigmatised in the larger Australian society. However, those that return to substance use are not viewed as having failed by staff, nor that treatment has been unsuccessful. Rather, they are encouraged to return to the treatment programme and engage in a life long process of recovery. In examining the efficacy of alcohol and drug treatment programmes, studies must account for indigenous understandings of recovery, which are embedded in the larger racial, political and socio-economic history of Aboriginal and white Australian relations.