LETTER: Water debate 21 years ago – similar in substance, but not in tone


Sir – I sent the following letter to Jimmy Cocking, or the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC).
Hello Jimmy,
In light of the controversy that has erupted over Councillor Steve Brown’s latest intemperate outburst I thought you might be interested in the articles published in the Centralian Advocate – “Alice faces water restrictions” (January 1991) and “Save water – warning” (April 1992).
The first article was essentially a warning by the Power and Water Authority director John Baskerville that, in light of record water consumption in Alice Springs that summer, the town faced the imposition of mandatory water restrictions. Mr Baskerville later went on to become Alice Springs’ most senior bureaucrat under the previous CLP government, essentially the director of all NTG departments in the Centre. He retired to South Australia early in the period of the Labor NT Government but has now been recalled to work for the new Mills CLP Government.
It’s of interest to note that Baskerville’s warning of impending water restrictions (never implemented) was 21 years to the month (January 1970) since the last mandatory water restrictions were imposed in Alice Springs, to my knowledge. This occurred when the town was supplied by water from the Mereenie aquifer and the population was less than 10,000.
The article “Save water – warning” of April 1992 describes the concerns about Alice’s high water consumption by a long-serving board member of the Power and Water Authority, Herman Weber, who was also the chairman of a new water usage committee set up to encourage more efficient use of water. How history loves to repeat itself in Alice Springs!
It’s very interesting to compare Mr Weber with Steve Brown – both are electricians and long-term residents of Alice Springs (Mr Weber arrived in the Alice in 1957 and retired to SA in 2002. He was a prominent businessman in Alice Springs for several decades). Both were members of the CLP, including being chairmen of the Alice Springs Branch (Mr Weber was also a founding member of the party in Alice Springs and served as a party vice-president in the 1980s). Finally, both were members of the Alice Springs Town Council (Mr Weber became the Deputy Mayor of Alice Springs). Yet the contrast between the two is stark – although Mr Weber was well known for his strong conservative stance on many issues, I cannot recall him ever resorting to the kind of intemperate and vitriolic outbursts that are so characteristic of Steve Brown. Mr Weber was also very considered in his opinions, even if many others disagreed with him, and he had a well-developed capacity for being self-deprecatory. He was never loud and over-bearing.
Steve Brown has a well-developed capacity to push his particular viewpoint through the media via his over-bearing manner but, in doing so, often displays a marked ignorance of the subjects he expounds upon. He would do well to take heed of the conduct exemplified by Herman Weber if he wishes to make his career in public office a long one.
Alex Nelson
Alice Springs


  1. Another fascinating contribution (Alice Springs News, 2/12/12 at 1:42 am) Alex Nelson, which contributes in a positive sense to the overall health in Alice Springs.
    Since Councillor Steve Brown initiated the Nazi thing, really Murray Stewart, it was not me, I have enjoyed, mostly in private, comparing Councillor Steve Brown with Hitler. Both had or have exceptional brainpower.
    My concern is with the obvious love that Councillor Steve Brown has with calling himself a common sense environmentalist. I have asked the Alice Springs News to publish on this before but no luck as yet.
    Councillor Steve Brown is destined to have quite an impact on the physical environment of Alice Springs and the town deserves to know precisely what is behind Councillor Steve Brown’s claim of being a common-sense environmentalist.
    David Chewings aka THE lone dingo
    [ED – We assume Mr Chewings is asking Cr Brown to say what he means when he calls himself a common sense environmentalist. We’re happy to publish Mr Chewing’s question.]

  2. Gees Alex, talking about ill mannered outbursts lacking in facts. It may not seem like it Alex, but time really is going by! Yes there can appear to be some similarity in events for those caught up in contemplating the past, naval gazing, blissfully unaware of today’s events happening around them. The events may appear to be similar but they really are quite different. The restrictions that were being discussed at that time you mention were in play because this was the time when we “were running out of water”! From the town basin!
    We were still in the process of developing the Mereenie borefield and the connecting pipeline. So at that time Alex we really were nearly out of water! As opposed to this occasion when there is enormous quantities of water available!
    Yet restrictions are being talked about because of a few behind the scenes agendas one being the blow-in enviro Nazi mindset of which I have spoken, possibly being skilfully played by a bureaucracy intent on holding back the development of our town, in order to make today’s bottom line look better!
    Regardless of the consequences for our future in amenity, employment, affordability, in short, there are consequences across the board if these agendas are allowed to proceed unhindered. My commonsense approach Dave is not to have restrictions unless they are actually needed, but certainly to take a hard look at what is going on behind the scenes so that we as a community can reach our own conclusions!
    Make our own decisions about where we are going. My family and I have held a long association with the development of our water supply; we were apprised of much of the input into the Water Strategy and as such are very well aware of both the science and the lack of science that went into its make-up.
    Alice Water Strategy was released a few years ago, Alice News and myself commented on it at the time. Let’s keep in mind that strategy, upon which I commented at the time, was to constricting and short-sighted, even so still allowed that we had hundreds of years of water even without recharge. And that it would support a lot larger town as well as a large agricultural precinct!
    Given that the town has hardly grown in the past few years, and given that we haven’t even started to set up a large agricultural precinct, and that the strategy was only released a few years ago, don’t you think we should be asking “What’s Changed”? Rather than sitting by while those who simply don’t care make decisions about our town’s future for you! The same people who have been in charge of our town’s disastrous neglect all along! For a town that exists now to a large extent on welfare that agricultural precinct offered huge opportunities in employment in horticulture, bush foods and particularly the cut flower market it offered hope dignity affordability all the things that we need to put this town “Back on its Feet”! As a “Free Enterprise Town”! Where the word “Welfare is seldom heard”!
    “Yeh”, and a few final comments, the word ENVIRONAZI describes perfectly, fanatics who regard the wants, needs and lives of human beings as secondary to their own agendas of personally saving the world even though they know absolutely nothing about it, they just know that everybody else is the enemy. It has absolutely nothing to do with the Nazis of Germany! Attempts to make it appear so are pathetic, also a clear demonstration by those involved in this criticism of their selfish irresponsibility in upholding freedom of speech within our nation the very thing that protects them from those kinds of regimes – something worth reflecting on “Heh”? I also quite clearly labelled it a mentality! One that is understood and recognised across this nation and is referred to in articles in all kinds of media every day.
    So no apology as I never intended and did not associate it with any individual. If some Individual feels that I am describing them perhaps they should take the time to take a long hard look at themselves and their contribution to our society.
    I am not overbearing Alex I am quite simply completely intolerant of blind stupidity!
    More add-ons, I along with half the town were once employed by Herman Weber. Bloody good bloke but I don’t recall him being all that backward in coming forward Alex!
    But to the best of my knowledge he joined the CLP a little later on after its foundation by the likes of my dad, Jim Brown, my uncle, Bernie Kilgariff, Len Kittle, Damien Miller, Tony Greatorex, Roger Vale, probably a few more but not Mr Weber.

  3. @Councillor Steve Brown; I don’t care whether you carry on with your enviro-nazi tirade or not.
    I do care that you continue to call yourself a common sense ENVIRONMENTALIST.
    You are in a very public place and still have not answered my question. You are nothing less than the Chairman of the council’s Environmental Advisory Committee.
    As you have said, things have changed since you were a boy and that goes for your dad and his influence within the party.
    I said it is your destiny to have an impact on the physical environment of Alice Springs. To my way of thinking, to refer to oneself as an environmentalist one must have rock solid credibility where it counts.
    You have not answered this question Chairman Councillor Steve Brown to my satisfacion.
    do-gooder David Chewings aka that holier than thou smart-ass aka THE lone dingo

  4. Steve Brown has recently made many useful points for consideration about the town’s water supply, along with more questionable assertions, and intemperate attacks on perceived foes.
    The Browns have been prominent over many years in pushing for development of a large piece of land as a residential subdivision in the rural area near Honeymoon Gap.
    In the interests of transparency, it would be useful for the Alice Springs News to give readers an updated overview of this proposal. As I recall, there have been disagreements between the Browns, Ministers and government planners about water supply, the safety of the water table, and sewerage disposal. There may have been other matters.
    It behoves everybody involved to ensure that there are no unstated potential conflicts of interest relating to the presentation of arguments about the Alice Springs water supply and its conservation. I don’t know whether there are any such conflicts of interest, but an update on the Browns’ development efforts and the related water supply and disposal issues would probably serve the public interest in this regard.
    [Hi Bob, google White Gums on this site. – ED]

  5. Time to indulge in some more “naval gazing”, as Steve Brown calls it. The main reason that water restrictions were implemented for three months in 1970 was due to excessive irrigation of gardens in the new subdivision of Gillen. The growth in demand for water caught the NT Administration by surprise, it had reached a level that wasn’t anticipated until the mid 1970s.
    Amongst all the material published in relation to this issue at the time there was a particularly interesting article by journalist Bob Watts (later to become the longest-serving editor of the Centralian Advocate). It’s worth quoting the lead-up to the main headline: “With Alice Springs now under quite severe water restrictions, despite the fact that experts say there is an almost unlimited supply of underground water, it is interesting to look at the background and the … NOT SO GLORIOUS HISTORY OF OUR WATER SUPPLY” (Centralian Advocate, 19/2/70).
    One correspondent didn’t think it was worth looking at that background: “In the issue of the ‘Advocate’ of 19th February, the article by Bob Watt on the history of the water supply in Alice Springs achieves nothing. Nobody is interested in what happened in 1942 to 1963; a new generation has grown up in the town and the past doesn’t mean a thing” (Centralian Advocate, 12/3/70).
    By crikey, that sounds just like Steve Brown! It was actually a grumpy letter from D. D. Smith, who was a prominent member of the local ALP (he was standing as a Labor candidate for the Town Management Board elections at the time, and a decade earlier he was the Labor Member for Stuart in the NT Legislative Council).
    Contrary to Steve Brown’s opinion, the past remains relevant to the present, a fact recognised throughout recorded history. For example, in 1905 the philosopher George Santayana stated: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” – a dictum which is highly relevant to the governance and administration of the Northern Territory of Australia, not least on water management in Alice Springs!
    Another quote on much the same theme comes from Marcus Tullius Cicero from the Roman Empire: “Those who have no knowledge of what has gone before them must forever remain children”
    Recent history was vital for the revelations of the Fitzgerald Inquiry that brought down the regime of that doyen of agrarian socialism, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, in 1987: “After nine months, a vast deal of information and assertion was entombed in Fitzgerald’s computers. He later said: I have a better appreciation of how big the problem is than the general community” (The Hillbilly Dictator by Evan Whitton; ABC Books, 1989).
    The main reason recent history is unpopular in some circles is not that it is irrelevant but that it is inconvenient. An awareness of what has and is going on is vital for efficient decision-making and management – and that just hasn’t been happening here in the Northern Territory for a very long time.
    I’m indebted to Steve Brown’s response for some very interesting insights but I’ll conclude by stating that I rest my case, m’lud.

  6. The Development at white Gums was put on hold by Delia Lawrie Minister for Lands at the time, for purely political reasons. The excuse, Alice Springs Quote, “Doesn’t have enough infrastructure to support it.” Yes another blatant political excuse for further stifling growth in Alice to justify the ongoing neglect of our region.
    “Yep another wonderful contribution to The Centre from Labor Hey Bob? The project was put on hold for review by Government, “In 18 months,” Delia said. A review which of course was never undertaken.
    Bob’s comment tries to make it appear as if there was something a bit crook about this project which by the way was worth some 150 million dollars to the Alice Springs economy.
    Just imagine what a difference that would make right now! Of course there were questions raised, advice given, experts called in. There was a very rigorous process that had to be gone through before this project could be approved. Fortunately, all those involved including Planning were both enthusiastic and helpful, well knowing the advantages the project had both for our economy and in creating more lifestyle choices for Alicespringsites.
    Between all of us the questions that had to be asked were answered, the project receiving huge support and was for all practical purposes under way until Delia stopped it!
    Bob, you might be interested to know that apart from the obvious questions about sewage disposal for the project one of the questions that had to be answered was about drainage, both surface and subsurface water.
    The below ground drainage question had to be answered specifically in relation to being a possible pollutant to the “Mereenie Recharge Water”.
    A recharge that our water activists and certain government owned enterprises are trying to allude doesn’t happen!
    Bit odd that, don’t you think? Our experts were easily able to assure government that there was no risk in this manner from our project as the underground drainage of the White Gums Illparpa Valley is actually east along the ranges, hence the project was able to receive the OK.
    During discussions about possible pollution of the Mereenie water supply by our project we felt entitled to ask why if the White Gums project was a threat, why wasn’t draining the entire town’s sewage directly over the top of Mereenie? We were rather gruffly assured it wasn’t because Mereenie is mined water and there is no recharge. Yet at the same time the drag strip just across the way was held up for an indefinite period by the same department because of a fear of pollution!
    Seems like Labor was bound and determined to do whatever it took to stifle our town, Bob. By the way don’t you have some involvement with Labor, Bob? But to answer your question about the ongoing White Gums Project I recently spoke to my dad, Jim Brown, who owns the land in question about reinstating the project, but sadly for Alice Springs it now appears likely that this project will never come to fruition as he is reviewing his intentions for this land.
    Yet another tragic loss for the Alice Springs economy at the hands of Labor!
    Rather curious how questions and answers around Mereenie all seem to arrive at a point that doesn’t require any further investment, don’t you think?
    And how come that if oil can filter down through the soil and rocks to pollute Mereenie, that water can’t do the same thing to recharge it? Just curious.

  7. Hi, I completely agree with the Lone Dingo on this matter.
    As an Environmental Advisor, Steve Brown should disclose his credentials in the field of environmental management/science before he goes about discrediting some of the work associated with Alice Water Smart or the “mentality” of some of those involved.

  8. Another peculiar comment Alex, do you ever have a thought of your own or do you get everything you know from old news papers, I wonder.
    And of course what a wonderful source of information, because obviously whatever is written in them has to be true, doesn’t it, just like all that stuff we see on TV.
    However just a polite suggestion read more than just the headlines if you had you may have come up with the fact that we were short of water because Mereenie wasn’t fully online at that time, just like I said.
    I know because I was there and involved at the time and I talk to others who were also involved at the time and guess what Alex, now that I’ve written this in a newspaper it’s also true and of course if you read your own comment so is that!
    Gees its all so confusing. Can anyone out there imagine someone in twenty years’ time researching something about 2012 by reading the Centralian Advocate headlines of the past 12 months? What an amazing story they’d come up with, and all true!
    Alex you have to learn the lessons of history as you go through life, you have to carry those lessons with you put those lessons to work in practical ways, sitting musing upon how similar everything is 20 years after the event will almost certainly see history repeat itself. You actually have to do something, in order to break the cycle! Alex, you are trapped in Ground Hog Day!

  9. On the contrary, Steve, it’s not me that’s trapped in “Groundhog Day”, rather it’s this town and region in which I am (just like you) a lifetime resident.
    However, Groundhog Day is not the best analogy to compare with the peculiarly circular nature of recent history in the Northern Territory – rather, it’s George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, which I’m sure is simply a work of fiction to some local learned individuals. However, with my Roman Catholic background and an extensive personal experience of CLP politics I can see (in the light of my lifetime’s observation of this region) that Orwell’s compelling tale is a parable of our time that appears to have been subverted for use as a blue-print for the governance and administration of this region. It’s just that in its practice in the NT there are some very distinctive twists to Orwell’s salutary warning – but its principal characteristics are all there to be discerned by the careful observer.

  10. @ Alex Nelson. Dec. 7. The analogy of Groundhog Day can be equally applied to the alcohol supply and abuse problem in Alice Springs.
    I remember the introduction of the 2km law and Justice Murihead’s comments about glass flagons and the alcohol industry’s vested interest in 1984, all of which, I’ve noted in these posts during the past year.
    1984 and Orwell, are, of course, synonymous with the State’s relationship with Big Brother. We see this everyday in the alcohol industry’s allicance with the NT and Qld governments.
    We have people who have lived in Alice for decades and in positions of public office, saying that they are against restricting alcohol supply, despite all the evidence presented.
    Those perpetuating Groundhog Day are like those who discovered the final secret of the Illuminati was that you didn’t know you were a member until it was too late to get out.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here