Reality TV star’s fortune from outback rivers of grog

Lucrative side business: Milton Jones, of reality TV series Keeping Up With The Joneses, has called restrictions on selling alcohol to customers from remote Aboriginal communities racist. Photo: Network Ten “Good buy”: Jones’ Top Springs Hotel, 600 km south of Darwin. Photo: Glenn Campbell

In his Top End reality TV show, Milton Jones presents as a larrikin stockman whose mustering skills have taken him from knockabout bull catcher to successful cattle baron running a fleet of helicopters across northern Australia.

The star of the Keeping Up with The Joneses show is similarly represented in his autobiography, where he boasts of multimillion-dollar cattle station deals and owning and living on his “million acre” remote Coolibah Station, about 550 kilometres south-west of Darwin.

“It takes a million bucks a year to live here and run it. A million to live here and a million in the bank – that’s about the plan. You know you gotta work your country,” he writes in his book The Man from Coolibah.

But there is another Jones’ business which, while similarly lucrative, seems unlikely to feature on reality TV. For years, the cattleman has been making a killing selling thousands of litres of booze to some of the territory’s hard-core alcoholics who live in Aboriginal communities around Top Springs, about 600 kilometres south of Darwin.

The alcohol is sold from the Top Springs Hotel where Jones’ company Jones Cattle NT owns the licence. His pub is the only liquor outlet for hundreds of kilometres and the closest for several of the remote Aboriginal communities.

Hard-core drinkers from the communities often spend thousands of dollars a week buying takeaway alcohol, sometimes more than a dozen cartons per vehicle, before driving to remote locations on the edge of dry communities and binge drinking the lot.

Jones rejects any claims of impropriety and boasts that the hotel was a “good buy” made after a row with a former publican who falsely accused him of “shooting at blackfellas”.

But according to police and health officials, the river of grog that has flowed from the hotel has led to carnage in the communities, contributing to deaths, domestic violence, brawls, assaults, neglect of children and fatal traffic accidents.

One horrific incident last year involved a 14-year-old girl who had been at one of the drinking spots. She was killed when she tried to drive back to her community. She was found to have a blood alcohol level of 0.06. She was crushed when the vehicle rolled.

Police found the car had been to the Top Springs Hotel where beer and rum had been bought. Fairfax does not suggest she bought the alcohol.

In 2011 a man died and another was severely injured after a group from Lajamanu community about 290 kilometres away bought 13 cartons of beer and three bottles of spirits at the hotel and tried to drive back.

The driver, Russell Sampson, 39, had a long history of alcohol-related offences including a conviction in 2001 for a dangerous act causing death which led to him being speared three times in the thigh as a traditional punishment.

Driving back he swerved, killing one of his passengers whose head hit a parked vehicle.

During Sampson’s trial last year, NT Supreme Court Justice Dean Mildren said: “This is just appalling that such an enormous amount of alcohol can be supplied”. He called for restrictions on takeaway alcohol. This and a petition led the NT Licensing Commission to apply successfully for restrictions on the hotel.

Jones objected and sought a hearing before the full commission, which heard about the problems caused by the alcohol sales despite an acknowledgement by police of a “civil and functioning relationship” between themselves and the hotel’s nominee Pauline Haseldine.

Licensing inspector Mark Wood alleged Jones had been aware in 1997 of the call for restrictions and that requests repeated in 2003 and 2004 had resulted only in the cessation of cask wine takeaway sales.

Jones’ counsel argued the hotel had an almost unblemished licence and questioned whether the licensee had a duty of care over customers who bought alcohol there but consumed it – and caused harm – hundreds of kilometres away.

This week Jones told Fairfax Media he had already appealed the decision through the Supreme Court. He denied alcohol sales were causing carnage and called the restrictions racist.

“They [police] need to be given some overtime to get out and do more breathalysing and roadworthy checks. Everyone else in the community wants it.

“It just means government workers have got to work a bit harder.

“If we don’t sell it at Top Springs, they will go another 273 kilometres to Katherine to get it.”

He said he wanted compensation if the commission was going to restrict his licence.

But the chief executive of the Katherine West Health board, Sean Heffernan, said: “I think he [Mr Jones] needs to really understand the impact and the trauma rather than see it from 170 kilometres away.”

Central Desert Shire deputy president Norbert Patrick called for Mr Jones to contribute back to the community, given the money that had flowed to the hotel.

Jones has written that he bought the hotel in the early 2000s when he owned the station nearby and had clashed with the publican. He writes that he attempted to give meat to local Aboriginals around the hotel, upsetting the then publican who claimed it was spoiling her business.

“One thing led to another and we had a few drinks and told her where to go and what not to do,” he writes.

He says as he drove away he saw the Aborigines’ dogs were on the road which was on his station so “I pulled the gun out and was into ’em”.

“The blackfellas must have got a bit frightened and they all ran back to the pub and the old girl, she’s rung the coppers and reckoned I was shooting at the blackfellas.”

He was banned from the hotel. So he said he then banned all his staff from going to the hotel and later purchased the licence when it came up for sale.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.