The Age (Melbourne), March 11, 2008
An Aboriginal woman in a group ejected from a Northern Territory hostel says the incident made her want to cry.
Bethany Langdon and other members of her remote community are reportedly considering legal action against the Alice Springs hostel’s management following their weekend ejection.
“When we booked in, the manager, she gave us the keys to the rooms and we went and put our stuff in the rooms. “We all went outside and the manager came out and told me that we weren’t suitable to stay there,” Ms Langdon told ABC Radio today.
“They said (it was) because we were Aboriginal. Other customers were making complaints that they were scared of us.
“I felt like I wanted to cry because it made me feel like I wasn’t an Australian, like I wasn’t wanted there.”
Ms Langdon was one of 16 Aboriginal women and children from the Yuendumu community who had travelled to Alice Springs to attend classes organised by Royal Life Saving.
ABC television reported last night the management of the Haven Hostel asked the group to leave following complaints from other guests.
The hostel’s management later said the Haven catered specifically for international backpacking tourists.
Royal Life Saving chief executive officer Rob Bradley said the incident soured the occasion for the Yuendumu community.
“We have worked over a long period of time to build the partnerships, to build the trust with 11 indigenous communities around the NT,” he told ABC Radio.
“This is a big stumbling block. I hope it doesn’t put people off.”
The territory’s anti-discrimination commissioner, Tony Fitzgerald, said the women could have a strong case.
“If the story is true, it’s disgraceful but it is not the only story exactly like this that we have heard anecdotally at the commission,” he said.
“The challenge for us is to convince people who do suffer this sort of unfair treatment to make a complaint so that we can investigate it and follow it through.”
The Haven Hostel’s statement said alternative accommodation had been arranged for the group.
“We also offered to pay for that night’s accommodation,” it said.
The women were accompanied by a Mount Theo youth worker, a lifesaving trainer, three community elders and six children. They booked into the hostel on Saturday and were leaving for dinner when they were approached.
The manager of the Mount Theo program, Susie Low, said: “(Ms Ball) said there had been some complaints from the tourists. The Asian backpackers were afraid of Aboriginal people and they would leave if the Aboriginal people did not leave.”
Ms Low contacted Tony Jones, the presenter of ABC’s Lateline, about the incident. “Within moments (Ms Ball has) . . . said (they) could stay,” Ms Low said.
When the group started to organise new accommodation, Ms Ball allegedly “opened her till and tried to hand them $480, saying, ‘Will there be any more backlash?”’ Ms Low said.
The Royal Life Saving Society made the hostel booking and paid for the training as part of its remote indigenous pools program. Society chief executive Rob Bradley corroborated the women’s story.
“Very clearly there was no reason for any complaint . . . It was purely, in my view, a racist action that defies belief,” he said. “I was shocked and dismayed that this situation could occur in Australia today.”
In a statement issued to The Age, Ms Ball said: “Haven Hostels is a backpacker hostel catering for international backpacking tourists, which this group was not.”
She said the hostel offered to pay for alternative accommodation.