LIZ BIRD, from Indiana Station, is pondering, from a little distance, the question of how The Alice has changed, in this week’s Food for Thought.
I’ve only been in Central Australia since 1990, came up from down south seeking adventure, like most people who come to the NT.
I didn’t realise that I would marry a local pastoralist and in doing so firmly entrench my future in this region.
Pastoralists – now there is a dying breed.
This town was founded by business brought in from the pioneers of the countryside, the graziers who risked their life and their savings to venture forth into the unknown to start up a virtually unknown business in the middle of nowhere.
Times must have been very tough back then, people were tough as well.
Nowadays the town seems to rely on mining, indigenous organisations and government staff and contracts to keep businesses afloat, with a bit of tourism thrown in for good measure.
Pastoralism seems to be forgotten at times, oh, except when the fires hit last year. The forgotten neighbors were soon remembered. Everyone was on the NAFI website looking at the fire flare ups and scarring. It was nice that people took an interest although at times it was hard for us on our slow satellite systems to get on the website – so that made firefighting a bit more difficult! I guess you could say that we appreciate an interest in our business, but don’t overcrowd us.
The long term locals usually have pastoralist links with generations of friendships and families going back many years. Other people in town may have relationships with bushies from contact in their work or in community events. Take for example the Harts Range Race Club. Our committee is made up of just as many townies as bushies. The skills from both groups of people help make this event the huge success it has been for over the last 60 years.
The Finke Desert Race is also shared by town motorbike heads and station people who train and develop their skills while mustering. Other groups like the Aileron Bush Club, the Saddlehorse Club, the Pony Club and the Centralian Beef Breeders Assoc all have active involvement from town and bush people.
I guess it is the sport and community activities which brings these groups of people together. I am sure there are many other events and organizations in town which do the same.
But how has the town changed in my time?
Well, I guess Alice has progressed with the times in many ways, but we’re also way behind in other areas. Take a trip to any city and recall that our largest building in town is three stories high; you know that development in the Alice is way behind.
Service and choice is also lacking, but that is what comes with living in a remote location with a floating population. But that is also kind of nice. It has not lost the “small town” feeling about it, not completely anyway. I imagine that 40 years ago when you went to town you would have known nearly every person in the street, except maybe a tourist or two. People came to the Alice, they built upon their dreams and they stayed. Those who didn’t burn out and headed back home.
It is far easier for interstate companies and contractors to come in take away the job from a local and then leave and take their money back to the city.
I guess to an extent you still see many people come and go and it is mainly the local business shop fronts that you really notice.
They start up and later they close down, or simply move premises to get more exposure or cheaper rent.
After a while you get to understand why so many “locals” (bushies and townies) can be hard to get to know.
They see people come into the town, make their money (or not) and then leave.
Where possible we need to support the smaller business in Alice because they are the businesses which support our community events; and are the ones we rely on for our own business to operate efficiently.
However, finding reliable support from some business suppliers has been a challenge in our industry over the last few years. I believe this is a staffing issue which we all share, both in town and out bush.
The world is much smaller now. The Internet has helped our life out bush by simply keeping us in touch with the rest of the world. It has brought the world into our isolated environment and we can simply take it or leave it. It provides us with choices on how we can manage the business. We can choose to learn or observe about how the world is changing but for now, it doesn’t directly affect us … long term it will, though. More and more rules and regulations are coming into our home and workplace (one and the same on a cattle station) and this will make running a business out bush a lot harder.
The Internet can have its downside for local businesses. I would like to think that most people make a conscious decision to try the local bloke first before getting on the internet to get that ebay bargain from an unknown who won’t care about the consumer once the freight has left his hands.
Alice Springs has some great people running successful businesses and locals will support local businesses that provide them with choice, quality service and after-sales support. We need to promote this concept and help build on it to continue the character of this great little town.