Rotto booze culture blasted
Cheers: Mike Wigram and Oisin O'Connor enjoy a beer and a game of golf at the Rottnest Country Club. Picture: Mogens Johansen/The West Australian

Rottnest Island has developed an established culture of drinking to excess, risk-taking and lowered inhibitions, to the point that "people think they can do what they like", according to health workers and police.

Concerns about high levels of alcohol consumption, occurring on the island all year round, are contained in submissions responding to a liquor licence application for the island's golf club.

The Director of Liquor Licensing gave the recently revamped Rottnest Country Club approval to serve alcohol but imposed conditions after intervention from Police Commissioner Karl O'Callaghan and executive director of Public Health Tarun Weeramanthri.

The special facility licence allows patrons to drink while playing or watching golf or lawn bowls, but a maximum of two drinks per person applies at any one time and all drinks, such as cans of beer, must be opened at the point of sale.

The club can also serve alcohol during functions and must place a sign at its entrance explaining that it is closed to the general public who have no involvement in golf or lawn bowls activities.

Dr Weeramanthri's submission said local stakeholders reported a "culture of drinking to excess which can span throughout the day" and throughout the year - and not just during leavers' celebrations.

Alcohol-related harm occurred regularly, with the island's nurses reporting an "established culture where people think they can come to Rottnest Island and do what they like".

"Inhibitions regarding acceptable and unacceptable behaviour are lowered and risk taking behaviour increases," they said.

Mr O'Callaghan argued that if the application was granted without conditions, public disorder or disturbance would be likely to result.

He said Rottnest police had expressed concern over the level of street drinking and antisocial behaviour during peak periods, which was a burden on policing and health resources.

He acknowledged some WA golf courses permitted drinking on the greens, but said Rottnest was unique in that it was inundated with young tourists and "often subject to alcohol-related antisocial behaviour".

Country club owner Nigel Williams did not believe there was a problem with excessive drinking.

He said the conditions placed on the club were too restrictive and would not help attempts to promote year-round tourism.

"We serve alcohol responsibly and we are trying to encourage a healthy environment for people to play golf and have a social drink," he said.

"Customers think it's bizarre. It's an embarrassing situation, but one that we can manage."

He planned to appeal for a relaxation of the conditions after 12 months.

Rottnest Lodge general manager Glen Trebilcock said the liquor licence at the golf club was one of the best things to happen to the island in a long time.

But he criticised the "ridiculous and restrictive" conditions.

"I don't agree that there is an excessive drinking culture, Rottnest is a place for families. Some people think they are going 'overseas' and they can do what they want to, but it is the minority," he said.

Local workers and golf club regulars Mike Wigram and Oisin O'Connor welcomed the new liquor licence yesterday.

Mr O'Connor said he could understand the regulations, but Mr Wigram thought they were too strict.

"It's great to have a few beers, but it's a bit ridiculous we have to open them beforehand," he said.

Rottnest Island Authority chief executive Paolo Amaranti said the liquor licence would enhance the visitor experience.

The West Australian

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