Staff at the Rorkes pub in Darwin walked off the job on January 22 after refusing to follow the owner’s orders to ban Aboriginal patrons from the premises.
Larrakia elder June Mills called for a boycott after allegations of racism against owner Mitchell McNamee came to light.
Staff told ABC News that McNamee had told them to ban Indigenous patrons using the excuse of “no singlets”. Thom Brock, a former junior manager at Rorkes, also revealed that “[McNamee] would ask me to charge (Indigenous customers) for water, which we’re obviously not allowed to do because it’s supposed to be free.”
ABC News reported on January 23 that 15 staff had quit Rorkes the previous week, and that the pub had been forced to close due to staff shortages.
Staff have also lodged complaints with Fair Work Australia over unpaid wages: some are owed between $4000-$6000. 9News reported that a senior staff member was owed around $10,000.
Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan spoke up about the alleged racism saying that the Racial Discrimination Act “is clear”. “The Act makes it unlawful for a person who supplies goods or services to the public to refuse those goods or services because of someone’s race.”
Territorians have used social media to share their experiences of racism and Rorkes. “It’s 2019 and racism is alive and well in Darwin, particularly in the pub/club scene,” wrote Jasmine. “[My partner] and I got rejected from this place once and the reason given was because of [his] shoes. I pointed out that there were several blokes (all white mob) walking around inside the bar with the exact same shoes on.”
While other restaurant owners have said that discrimination is unacceptable, the truth is that it happens all the time.
While the NT faces significant challenges around alcohol-related social problems, institutionalised racism is, arguably, more of a widespread social problem not least in regard to the regulation of alcohol.
The NT is the only jurisdiction in Australia where police permanently patrol liquor shops. Josef Jakamarra Egger, an Aboriginal high school teacher in Alice Springs, told the ABC in 2017 he was stopped by police every time he bought alcohol. “This afternoon I went to the bottle shop and I was refused service by the police officer … there were other customers that went ahead without being questioned.” His partner, a non-Aboriginal woman, said she had never been stopped.
Aboriginal people in the NT have lived with punitive, racist alcohol regulations for many years.
The NT Intervention policy, rolled out in 2007, banned alcohol in “prescribed” communities. Welfare recipients have had their payments “quarantined” onto Basics Cards, with alcohol among the items they may not purchase. A mandatory alcohol rehabilitation program under the previous government was made up of 97% Indigenous people.
The staff at Rorkes should be applauded and for outing their manager who, allegedly, sent them all text messages saying, “I told you no blacks in my f* bar”.
By no means did this happen in a vacuum. Racism is alive and well in the NT.